By Cole Cathcart.
Think what you will of modern music. It is the product of centuries of hard work. Musical pioneers of all genres have crafted their own unique styles. As a result, wonderful “creole” musical mixtures have blossomed over the years. If you look deeply into the timeline of music, you’ll come to a fascinating realization – over the decades, music has evolved since the time in which it resided, and continued to mould to meet the future. However, for hundreds of years, music has almost always reflected the basic human experience.
Around the turn of the century, the United States was flooded with immigrants from all over the globe. These new immigrants brought their own unique traditions and experiences. At the same time, harsh discrimination against African-Americans made the national feeling quite sour. In response to Jim Crow, African-American musicians, poets, and many other artists settled in a portion of New York City, Harlem. Jazz began to gain momentum. It rose out of the shambles of the great depression to become the ideal form of American music. From its popularization in Harlem, Jazz had around three decades to define itself and evolve. Timeless talents such as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald defined Jazz up until the mid 20th century. That being said, music was in store for a dramatic change.
Modern Jazz and back country soul exploded into the music scene in the 1950s while rock and Roll took over the music scene in the United States. Artists like Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Little Richard infused soul and swagger into their lavish recordings and performances. Further still, the music scene changed. Technology and regional influence diversified the production and marketing of music. A clashing force of ‘Modern’ and ‘Traditional’ music became evident, and it still exists today. A classic example of this is the iconic Rock band ‘Queen’ making it known on the back of their vinyl records that ‘no synths’, or synthesizers, were used to create their music. By the time Queen’s last studio album was released 20 years later, synthesizers were used heavily to create their sound as a band.
You may be thinking “Why did I just read all of this information about the transformation of music, this is not what I came here for.”, and understandably so. I describe this transition of popular music to emphasize that we live in a time where music is created electronically. This isn’t a bad thing. However, it is imperative to hear sounds of the past.
The first time I heard Chuck Berry’s ‘Johnny B. Goode’, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Such a blasting, radiant, and catchy sound had never reached my ears, and the song was 60 years old when I first heard it. Herein lies my point. In a sea of auto tune, electronic beats, and creative rap lyrics, it is refreshing to hear the sound of where it all began. These older simple beats and riffs remind of us the simplicity of music, and how far today’s pop music has come.
As a slightly shy kid, I often found it difficult to fit into adult conversation. On one occasion, I found myself stuck. My parents and grandparents were deep in conversation, the matters of which were not pertinent to my eight year old brain. In a sudden moment of courage, I asked my grandfather if he had ever heard Chubby Checker’s 1960 smash hit, “The Twist”. The dull mood (in my young opinion) of the conversation immediately changed as my grandfather jumped up from his chair with a gleam in his eyes. With a youthful excitement, he proceeded with classic dance moves that were in rhythm with the song. A simple, old tune has the potential to bring passion back to a person who is thought to be past his/her days of youth.
A fascinating aspect of old music is simply the historical importance of the recorded songs. Songs of the American Civil War shed light on the experiences of soldiers and slaves during the conflict. Ballads of the Great Depression era highlighted the bitter lows and optimistic hopes of the human spirit. Though older music may seem outdated and out of touch, listening to a few songs may make you realize those who came before us were normal people too, who were faced with struggles just like we are. Old music has the ability to put our meager problems in perspective.
In conclusion, old music is very important. Whether it is used to rekindle happiness in an older family member or friend, to get in touch with the roots of today’s music, or simply to gain perspective on past times, it has a place in the world today. If older music is viewed through the aforementioned lenses, it can have benefits, even decades after it is recorded. So go on, enjoy the music your grandparents enjoyed, maybe you’ll learn a thing or two in the process!