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Pick a decade, any decade; there’s good music, and there’s not so good stuff.

posted April 7, 2014, 12:28 pm by Nathaniel Lathy | Filed Under Checking the Playlists, Editorial | comment Leave a Comment

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong


The music from various decades has its high points and low points.

The 1930s were a great time for popular music. It was groundbreaking via the efforts of Louis Armstrong. Robert Christgau wrote in a review of a collection of Armstrong’s songs his sound was quite remarkable for the time.

Armstrong’s changes lead to development of jazz and rock ‘n’ roll. It was also a time for music, which featured  wonderful melodies via Judy Garland, Duke Ellington, Ethel Waters and Count Basie.

Succeeding decades had their moments through the 60s, when rock n roll went through dramatic changes. The Beatles took the changes made by the invention of rock in the 50s (thank you Chuck Berry) and ran with them.

They came up with a sound, which was different than anything else on in the pop arena. And they featured two excellent song writers in John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

You could still find practitioners of pop music from earlier eras. Armstrong took the No. 1 spot from the Beatles with his hit “Hello Dolly.” Frank Sinatra and Jack Jones had their hits. There was still classic jazz from Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane.

All of these different styles presented the listener with many choices. It was also a time where the culture was changing and artistic progression was equated with overturning existing mores.

Somewhere along the line in succeeding decades it became harder to find alternatives to rock. Dance music accelerated by the disco movement in the 70s celebrated the values of the rock world.

You can always find changes with merit in various music trends. Rap music grew out of disco. And it embraced a sound in line with rock even the hard variety spearheaded by Run DMC.

Some of the rap music had positive messages. There continue to be ground breaking albums. This year I’ve heard a couple of winners, so far. Future  Islands has come up with the best album so far this year. And I’d like to think something will come out, which reaches the five-star level.

I am found wanting, when looking for an artist, which makes music better. Maybe Vampire Weekend is in this realm. But I wonder if the best artists will be from the past.

I’m even less confident if the values celebrated by show tunes, can be recaptured. The straight ahead jazz of the past didn’t sound rebellious at least not compared to the fusion, which came in the late 60s and early 70s. Dave Brubeck, Mel Torme, Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald performed music, which was in line with traditional values.

Current musical trends can laugh at what’s worked in the past, and it may be catchy enough to keep me listening. And I can admire the music brilliance, but I’ll continue to fret over whether society is going through cultural and aesthetic decline. I wish music wouldn’t mirror the bad changes.  Maybe country  holds the seeds of reform. Then again even its stars can be influenced by Hollywood.


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