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Has music really changed?

October 25, 2008

Last week, I went to the beach with my family–my parents, my brother, my grandparents. inevitably, every time my grandparents get together, they love to reminisce of the old days, and usually, it is fun to listen in. But there is one topic that always comes up: how depraved this generation is compared to past generations. Apparently, the world has just been getting worse and worse…especially in music, movies, and who we choose to admire. Now, I don’t really want to argue with them, but in my heart I don’t believe that to be true, especially in music. I decided to investigate…Is music really worse today than it was even a few decades ago?

There are plenty of confounding lyrics I could mention…lyrics from my grandparents’ generation. Black music in particular was never shy about singing about sex. At the same time Patty Page was singing “How much is that Doggy in the Window” (can you get more innocent??), Muddy Waters was recording the song “I just want to make love to you.” Eventually, these old blues songs were picked up by white musicians who recorded them for white audiences, who tried their hardest to ignore the true meanings of the songs. A perfect example is Shake Rattle and Role, which was quite racy in Big Joe Turner’s original version. These songs weren’t new, even in the 1950’s.

Musicians have so long been picked mainly for sex appeal. It sells records. I don’t think anyone was buying Bill Haley’s records because he was a great singer or had great songs (although, I suspect that is relative), but because he was suave, stylish and charismatic, and women swooned over him. He was “the” guy for a time. Sexual appeal is just how you play the game.

Another figure that comes to mind is Little Richard. Whenever people are shocked by the androgyny of 80’s styles as if that was the beginning of the end, I always wonder…don’t they remember Little Richard? he was as wild and outrageous as they come.

Dude wears more makeup than my mother, and he’s been doing it for years. I don’t think the homosexual overtones surrounding him are all that inconspicuous. And we pretend Michael Jackson was the first? I don’t mean this as a slight to Little Richard at all (or Michael Jackson). I really think he was wonderful and without a doubt one of the best artists of the past century. But really. He was always sexual, dirty, and downright irresistable.

I could go on and on, decade by decade. Elvis. James Brown. The Beatles. Jimi Hendrix. The Rolling Stones. The Doors. Clapton. Marc Bolan. The Misfits. Aerosmith. Y’know, there are some lyrics written by Jim Morrison that are certainly explicit enough to compete with some of the nastiest stuff out there today. there is no denying it, popular music has long been obsessed with sex, drugs, violence, materialism, and all those other topics that are supposedly “taboo”. Pop Culture, I don’t think, has changed a whole lot. Man has always been obsessed with these things, and on some level I think we’ve always accepted them, but we’re just now admitting it to ourselves and allowing them to come to the surface. I think, quite frankly, my grandparents are in denial. If anything, I think people today are much more concerned about sexual references and drug use and this sort of thing than they were at any other time in the last 50 years. Miley Cyrus, anyone? It seems like they’re trying to clean up everything, ignore everything they don’t like, and make everything “safe” for kids. Hello, the world isn’t safe. You can’t live in fear of everything you don’t agree with. If anything, I’d say this sort of attitude is going backwards, making us even more ignorant. I’m not arguing that “cleanliness” is a bad thing…its just not representing the whole pie. As long as we try to ignore the problems in society, we will never be able to overcome them.

I would love to hear some thoughts on this.

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