Rock Music: 1951-1976 vs. 1977-2003

There have been a number of posts recently where people have voiced opinions about how much better music was back when "Star Trek" was in it's original run. This is a post intended to examine the issue in a little more detail.

Let's say rock & roll started in 1951 with "Rocket 88" and has evolved continously through the present day. That's 52 years of 4/4 music with a heavy backbeat and it puts the midpoint at about 1977, or the start of the punk/new wave sound. My question is which of these two periods produced the best music. Voice your opinion and explain why.
Onhwy61, Interesting post. If we are talking STRICTLY rock and roll, I would have to vote for the earlier period.

I mean, just the Beatles alone......

The evolution of music throughout that earlier period yielded some of the finest bands and music in music history. We should also really consider the instrument evolution also from that period.

Fender Strats and Teles, Les Pauls, Fender Rhodes pianos, Hammond organs, Mini Moogs, Arp string synths, Wah- Wah pedals, phase shifters, etc.etc.etc. Many of these instruments helped to give bands their specific sounds.

I sound like my parents, "Music's not what it used to be".
It must be my age catching up to me.
I would have to vote for the earliest rock era. My reasons?

Motown with the likes of Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Otis Redding, Smokey Robinson, The Four Tops, The Drifters, The Sherilles, The Temptations, The Supremes, et al.

The British invasion including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Animals, etc.

Early American Rock with the likes of Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, Fats Domino, Little Richard and Chuck Berry.

American folk with Dylan, The Kingston Trio, etc.

The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, America, Joni Mitchell, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Traffic, Steely Dan, Leon Russell and others.

The list of powerful, inspired artists (many still active) is too heavily favored during this time frame for a second thought on the subject.

My apologies to all the great music makers left off the above list. Thanks to all for the joy brought to my life through their art!
If we are looking for the golden 25 years of R& about from 1963 to 1988 or so?
You're right Buscis, in a sense it is age catching up with you.

This is a hard Q for more than one reason. One reason, I think, is that a person’s receptiveness to Rock music is caused by a hormonal imbalance that usually starts to come to an end somewhere in one’s twenties. It is not that you will never grow to love new rock music after a certain age, it is just that it is harder to do so. I have a few favorites that I still listen to and they are all, for the most part, from the first time period (51-76). The few that attract my attention, Peter Gabrial, Neil Young, or somebody, are mostly holdouts from the old days too. My guess is that young folks these days can listen back to Led Zeplin and the Beatles and it may attract their attention. Not much new in the Rock world in the last 20 years has touched me and I think it as much me as the music. It is certainly <3-4% of what I listen to these days.

Any of you older folks getting into new rock?

I remain,
Lugnut, You are so spot-on to mention Motown. It was the absolute foundation for some of the most soulful and inspiring music to ever be recorded. If you think about the volume of music produced by Motown alone, and the incredible musicians that Motown helped to nurture through their careers, it was just so immense.

Where's all that great stuff now? What happened to the "Motown era's" and the "British invasion" era's?

You can call me what you want, music's just not the same.
It's missing the abundance of incredibly talented musicians and the record companies that used to promote them.

Rock has certainly grown to more professional levels if we measure v.s....

Look-up Jethro Tull throughout their career: They always grow and make a progress towards sophistication techniques and were becoming more and more interesting with every new album they made especially during 80's.

Same with King Krimson merged with Yes drummer Bill Brufford in 1976.

Interesting note can be found on Talking Heads started as punk band and than after David Byrne separated from them and merged with Brian Eno producing highly sophisticated and interesting records. Further-on David Byrne merged with Laurie Anderson realy starting a new era of experimental artistic and newly developed rock.

The almost same path took Phil Manzanera towards David Byrne and Brian Eno also with successfull intersection with Robert Wyatt from Soft Machine.

The very trivial example with Paul McCartney who begun to merge with Scoffield, Sanborn, Andy Summers(BTW another great rock evolution example) to produce a very serious level of music compared to trivial Beatles. Even Beatles albums became to be more sophisticated starting 70's due to more desire to progress certainly driven by Paul.

Along with american classic rock Europe developed in mid-70's their own Jazz-Rock less known in US but was different and interesting by its difference.

And that's realy where the v.s. difference lies IMO i.e. higher sophistication, blending with jazz and blues, involving more electronics even involving classical music as well. Also in addition there were Heavy Metal and Hard Rock that were less-sophisticated but was a good way too get the crowd up as I guess was the realy first meaning of rock.
As a 39 year old music fan who basically grew up in the later era and who is still as enthuasiastic about new music as he ever was....then I have to say clearly the early era is superior.
It isn't even close.
I do actually think most of that was down to the artists having pretty much a blank canvas to work on.
It's also impossible to imagine another set of musicians having the worldwide cultural impact The Beatles had.
What has happened in my mind as the rock/popular form has progressed and expanded into hundreds of sub-cultures.
I think that in the modern day things at least seem much more split into their own genres-that's a bit of a generalisation but I believe it mostly to be true.
Of course there has been some fantastic music since 1977 but in straight comparison the early era simply wins out not on music but also in terms of icons.
Marakanetz makes some good points but that is in specialised genres.
The big problem in modern music is the lack of the magical mixture of fantastic musicianship and charisma,mystique,star quality call it what you will.
The UK probably hasn't produced a great cultural icon with real musical roots since Morrissey at his peak with The Smiths-which is twenty years ago.
This will cause a riot but America's only crossover in these terms since Kurt Cobain is indeed Eminem.
Of course the world has changed and the music business is now a completely different animal on various levels-records now are CD length-a silly idea since the classic era meant records of 36 mins-not to mention a genre born out of single releases-there's been a bit of a backlash recently but still we have music releases now at CD length.
There still a lot of great new music being produced but you need to dig to find it and accept not many are going to pull it off over 70 mins.
I think you can safely accept that perhaps the golden era of rock music will never be repeated but if you can keep your enthuasiasm and an open mind then you can continue to find great music both new and old.
The great thing I think about getting older (for me at least) is that you can also expand your tastes into other areas you wouldn't have considered in your youth.
Didn't Bob Dylan (shot voice or not ) release a record a couple of years back that sits with some justification amongst the best of his fantastic body of work?
In fact Dylan to some extent has lived through all these era's and although his best work remains clearly pre-'77-I still enjoy listening through the debris of his terrible releases,shoddy productions,mistakes,returns to form and find gems of songs and about 6 great to brilliant albums.
Where there's life there is hope.
If we assume Rock Music as a musical genre then early examples of the genre are generally simpler and more accessible than later ones. Early adopters also needed to be more creative to push the envelope of the genre. Similarly with Jazz, Regae, Punk, Opera, Minimalist, ... whatever. Now my age dictates that I'm not very accepting of new genres, like rap, hip-hop, european dance music. And with our penchant for revisionist history it's always nice to revist the newly minted rosey past. On much better media in high-tech hometheater systems. But then again our penchant for revisionist history dictates that analog is the way to go !

As an aside I think the fact that we have the music on static media that does not wear out performed by the original artists has slowed down development of music because there's less incentive to cover well written songs to develop and morph them into newer genres. Unless the artists performance was terrible in the first place, but ...
Interesting post, onhwy61. Trying to decide which era produced the "best music" is tough. I can pick certain groups like Rare Earth, Yes, Little Feat and even the Monkeys and find gems of musicality from the 1951-1976 years. After 1977 I can again find great music from Morphine, Depeche Mode, Suzanne Vega and others. Based only on the music I cannot decide which era is best.

For me, the 1951-1976 era was my "growing up" era. I listened to music with friends and my world was being formed with music all around me. Songs and groups became associated with memories and those memories trigger a feeling of greatness for those songs. When I hear a lot of those songs I can remember where I was, who I was with, what time of day it was, etc. There aren't too many songs from 1977 and later which I associate with events, friends, new discoveries, etc. I believe, for most people, the "growing up" era produces the best music. As great as the "growing up" era was for music, today I need different sounds, something I haven't heard before. It's almost as if I thrive on knowing what's new and I am looking for different sounds to rock me. I find artists like Keller Williams, Radiohead and Beck very different and in years to come I will relegate them to the "oldies" bin and I will try to find new, fresh artists. With that said, I would rather listen to music from the 1977-2003 era.
Jafox: You hit it on the head. If i was stuck listening to only "rock" music from those years, i wouldn't be all that upset. Most newer music, at least what gets commercial airplay ( and that's not saying much ) is extremely repetitive and lacking in originality. Nowadays, it truly is a case of "one size fits all" if you know what i mean.... Sean
I have argued/discussed this point only too recently, elsewhere. Jafex did make a good point though. I think 1968/1969 was as much of a pivitol thim in Rock as when The Beatles came to America.

As far as I am concerned, the 1970's represent rock as it's lowest and has since improved.
I think I understand the issue being discussed, but isn't this similar to: which came first, the chicken or the egg? If Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf hadn't done what they did, would the Beatles and Rolling Stones ever done what they did?
For the most part I think the phrase ' dwarves on the shoulders of giants' sums up the music world. How far back does one have to go to find the line between the dwarves and giants???
That said, there have been great musicians in every era, and to ask us to draw a line is a difficult and personal thing.
Comments were made about Jethro Tull for instance. I prefer some of their later work to their earliest work, but if it weren't for the early stuff the later stuff would never have been made!
I grew up in the 70's so it is all the more difficult for me to draw the line. The Doors work done in the early 70's I liked. The Jethro Tull and Bob Dylan of the mid to late 70's I prefered to the earlier work.
What came first, This Was or Crest of the Knave; Free wheelin' or Blood on the Tracks???
I personally prefer good music to era specific music!
Unclejeff...the 70s were the lowest point? Oh I would say the opposite. We had the most technical and melodic material of the times: ELP, Yes, Led Zep, Jethro Tull, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Rush, Beatles solo, etc., etc., etc. Much before with a few exceptions like Beatles, Stones, Moody Blues, rock bands were one-hit wonders. Fortunately many of these great bands continued into the 80s and even the 90s but so few new bands really came into play at the same level. What a disappointment! Once the 90s kicked in, the one-hit wonder phase returned. The 70s and even the 80s were times when I could put on an LP and enjoy both sides with perhaps all but one or two songs. Now with new material, I feel lucky to find more than a few songs worthy of my time.
There are a lot more rock bands post '77 than pre, but the quality seems more diluted? That's my perception anyways, but time has acted as a filter for me. Comparing a number of the best bands from pre and post, I'd say the differences in quality is too close to call. I like stuff from all the eras for various reasons (except early fifties).
Since I got involved with Frank Zappa when I was 15 the commercial world was going more far and far away from my listening tastes. Not knowing well English I swallowed FZ's well heard and pronounced lyrics and speaches during performances(BTW something to learn from PHD in English isn't it?) from his records and tapes and as far as time goes towards nowdays in such commercial-pop-free world everything becomes more interesting, sophisticated and creative. FZ-played musicians formed their own bands with smashing albums as well as members of Jethro Tull, Genesis, Yes, King Crimson, Can, ELP, Soft Machine, Roxy Music, etc.., merging with each other making such list is extreamly wide and rich that realy can compete with rest of commercial world and even wider, whilist pop and commercial stars light-up for a while and than everyone forgets about them or played and listened only by contemporary generation(s). Folks in 30-s will listen something from Abba or Tina Turner, Madonna; folks in 40-s will listen something as James Brown, Kool and the Gang; folks in 20-s will listen to Aqua, Back Street Boys etc...
You've got an interesting point. Contemporary artists are popular today. Only time will tell if they have lasting power. Meanwhile we sort of know who amongst the earlier artists have staying power. That's not to say many of them will a hundred years from now. But you and I don't care what happens a hundred years from now. It's what we enjoy today and tomorrow that's important. For me that's Wagner. He's got staying power ! Why ? Because his works are performed and the performers have the license to interpret his works so each production is different. We're not quite so flexible with Beatles of FZ or Christine Agulara numbers. Yet.
Well, I guess I need to clarify my point on the 70's being, for rock, a falling-off. First, of course Jethro tull, Dire Straits, Skynyrd, etc. are 70's bands and I own several of their albums. I think that beginning in about 1972/1973 some of the best music, and certainly much of the most popular music was Motown, Folk and...oops...disco.
This alone somewhat proves my point. I think that Yes, there are exceptions as even those of you who decry the most recent releases must allow for 'today's' music. I just think that, with the above exceptions, and of course Bowie, the 70's amounted to an interlude. These were also my own College years.
UncleJeff: I think that there are many people that would agree with you, but possibly in a different way. From my point of view, what was good and innovative in the 60's and early 70's began to stagnate. As such, many of the "youth" began to rebel against "corporate" rock and started their own "musical revolution". We know it today as "punk rock" and it obviously had a pretty big impact on both musicians and the music industry as a whole.

Looking back now, i "hated" much of what was "corporate" hard rock back then and gladly embraced the "rebellion" of punk. When i was a freshmen in 1978, i was one of two "punk rockers" in the whole 1000+ student high school. While the other guy had an older brother that played in the now famous band called "Ministry", there was literally nobody around that was into most of the music that i really liked. Most of this was due to lack of exposure on the part of others, so i was constantly lending out LP's. I did this so that "rockers" could actually find out that it was possible to share thought, emotion and energy in a record without having to listen to 30+ minutes of mindless lyrics and guitar wanking.

Sitting here and thinking about all of this, i feel kind of like a hypocrite. Not only do i enjoy many of the "legends" that i was "diss'ing" back then ( Zepplin, Sabbath, Floyd, etc... ), i now have a tendency to criticize the music and youth of today. In effect, the "rebellious punk has become a member of the establishment". I know that there are others here that are in similar shoes, but it sure doesn't feel very good to think of being one of those that the youth of today call "Mr Suit" ( which was a GREAT song by the way ). After reading some of the other comments and reviewing the one that i made regarding cutting off "rock" after about 1988, i've come to the realization that i either need to get out more often and go to different shows or agree to die a slow death while still walking on two feet. As such, i'd rather be the "old codger" yelling with the kids at a show than to be the "old bastard" yelling at the kids from the porch. Know what i mean ?

Maybe i need to dig a little deeper and find some GOOD "alternative" music to what is no longer "alternative" but simply "corporate". Most of the crap on the radio is no better or different than what i was rebelling against 20+ years ago, so why have i come to accept it as being "okay to listen to" nowadays ? Sean
Unclejeff, you're saying that the mid 70's were an interlude in good quality R&R? How can one really argue/debate this?

Jethro Tull (which started recording in '67, but was around much earlier) put out some of their best LPs in the 75-79 years.

It does seem as though R&R did lose its way in there though. At the time when everyone roundly criticised the 'arena' rock bands who no longer played clubs, now this is looked upon as the golden age of concert attendance. This might be due to the fact that many of the groups are no longer around.

I'm going to see Jethro Tull again for the umpteenth time in August, but it's about the show now, not so much about the quality of the music.

We're probably around the same age, just have different perspectives.

Sean, for the most part I couldn't warm up to the 'punk' scene. A lot of attitude, but not much talent! I still like The Clash though!

It seems somewhat silly to be rebelling against the music that allowed you to exist. I understand that it was mostly a political/economic thing, but to castigate other bands for having talent when the punk practiconers had none is self defeating.

This is all opinion anyway, so we're all right! You gotta love a thread whree people disagree and are still right.
I think Clueless is onto something with his hormonal imbalance comment. Music just seems more important when you're a teen/young adult. I think that whatever music you're exposed to during these formative years becomes imprinted on the brain. My age is such that the pre-1977 music is what has been imprinted, but that just means I like the music more, not that it's in any way actually better than post-1977 rock.

It's my observation that over the years rock music has alternated between periods of simple and complex music. The earliest rock was heavily R&B based with tinges of jazz (Johnny Otis, Ike Turner, etc.). It was relatively complex music to play. Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and others (doo-wop vocal groups) simplified this music to the point where, quite literally, any reasonably talented kid could pick up a guitar and play their songs. But within a few years the music become complex again. The early sixties witnessed Phil Specter's wall of sound. Lavish arrangements with full horn and string sections performed by top level studio musicians. The British invasion represented a return to a relatively simple musical form. A few years later rock becomes complex again with art rock groups (Yes, King Crimson) and disco. YES, disco is complex. If you doubt me, listen to Donna Summer's "MacArthur Park", or better yet get a guitar or bass and try to play anything by Chic. Three chord music it ain't. Punk & rap are obvious returns to simplistic music. You still needed talent to produce music, but punk & rap allowed relatively unskilled musicians to make music. By the mid to late 80s the music was still somewhat simplistic, but the skill level required to make it was quite high with the guitar pyrotechnics of Van Halen, Anthrax, Metallica and Steve Vai dominating. The grunge sound brought the musicianship back to a more humanly manageable level. The boy/girl bands and urban R&B sounds that followed are examples of complex music. It may sound simple, but it's a heavily produced music that requires a substantial level of musical skill to play.

At its core rock has been a very democratic music. The people producing the music are not that different than the people listening. Whenever it appears that the two groups greatly diverge, then the music returns to a simpler, more easily played/produced form. I think this is how rock is able to periodically reinvent itself. I can't imagine that any of rock's early pioneers could have envisioned the music lasting for fifty years.
Well Nirchy, I think I covered myself quite well as Jethro Tull was one of the three or four bands I gladly referanced as an exception to my laments concerning the mid-70's Rock. This was Clapton's forgettable years (okay Layla was really good): Wings bubble-gum time, Sex Pistols and the source of my local radio station's Friday 13th playing of the "Hits From Hell"

Again, I understand the weakness of over generalizing, but I think that the mid 70's represented the weakest link in what has turned into 50+ years of Rock. Other than the Moody Blues, and Pink Floyd, what album truly moved us all since McCartney's first solo venture--at least until the (very!) late 70's.

I don't include Motown, James Tayler, the BeeGees etc., as being representitive of rock. These are the departures I spoke of in my first posting.

For me, it is pretty simple. On one side, you have the Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Creedence Clearwater, James Brown, Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Neil Young, and many others recording at the height of their artistic powers.

Who would like to try composing a list to compete with that in the second category (post 1977)? Yes, punk and alternative exploded around this time, but how many really believe that the Clash, Sex Pistols, and X are far superior artists to their forebearers, the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, and the New York Dolls?

Normally, I have no patience with those who insipidly claim that older is better by definition. Moreover, I believe that there is plenty of good music at any given time for anyone with the determination and resources to find it. But in this case, the evidence is overwhelmingly on the side of the earlier period. The Beatles and Stones alone seal it--add in the others, and it is no contest.

And let's not even get started with jazz...

It's not that simple. Just from my limited music collection I consider the following artist as significant post-1976 artist:

10,000 Maniacs, ABC, The Blasters, Joan Armatrading, Aztec Camera, David & David (Baerwald & Ricketts), Erykah Badu, Beastie Boys, Beck, Big Audio Dynamite, Bjork, Blue Nile, Blue Rodeo, Kate Bush, Cardigans, Chemical Brothers, The Clash, Concrete Blonde, Elvis Costello, Cowboy Junkies, Cranberries, Robert Cray, Marshall Crenshaw, Sheryl Crow, Curve, Dinosaur Jr., Dire Straits, Duran Duran, Elastica, English Beat, Eurythmics, Donald Fagen/Walter Becker, Feelies, Bryan Ferry, Parliment/Funkadelics, Gang Of Four, Robert Gordon, Guns 'n Roses, PJ Harvey, Heaven 17, John Hiatt, Micheal Jackson, Jane's Addiction, Jayhawks, Marti Jones/Don Dixon, Rickie Lee Jones, k.d. lang, Living Colour, Los Lobos, Lyle Lovett, Lush, Massive Attack, Sarah McLachlin, Metallica, Nirvana, Oasis, Robert Palmer, Graham Parker, The Police, Pretenders, Prince, Public Enemy, R.E.M., Robbie Robertson, Sade, Steel Pulse, Stereolab, Sundays, Swing Out Sister, Talking Heads, Tears For Fears, Television, Tony Toni Tone, U2, UB40 and Van Halen.

I think that based upon their recorded output these groups match up quite well talent-wise with anything produced pre-1977.
give me only 10 years of rock music

it would be hard to choose between


and single years like 71,72,75 have more musical focus than a whole decade in the 80's or 90's