By FRANK CALO
The rock ‘n’ roll community recently lost a legend and pioneer in Chuck Berry. He’s the man credited for creating the genre of rock ‘n’ roll with songs like “Johnny B. Goode,” “Ridin’ Along in My Automobile,” “Maybelline,” and many more. Without Berry’s influence, who knows where music would be today? Many will miss him, but his legend will continue on.
Berry’s recent death along with the Ultra Music Festival that took place in Miami this past weekend got me thinking about the evolution and importance of music through the generations. I came to the conclusion that this generation’s music – the generation I belong to -is the worst generation of music we’ve seen.
In every decade since the 1950s, music has evolved and grown, from the development of blues to rock ‘n’ roll to funk to punk to grunge to hip hop, etc. Each decade seemed to be unique and each genre of music seemed to represent different emotions that the musicians were feeling. They pushed boundaries and expectations.
In the 1950s you had Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and others who started to break the conservative mold of the era. On the Ed Sullivan Show, Presley was only shown from the waist up on TV because they thought his gyrating hips were too sexually charged. These artists changed music forever with what they did. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, a lot of new music was emerging from artists such as The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Joan Baez and The Doors. They dealt with the feelings and emotions of the Civil Rights and hippie movements and the Vietnam War. They fought and challenged the government and status quo. Then you had the angst of punk, grunge and hip hop music. The next couple decades brought out the emotions and feeling of the younger generations and the anti-establishment movement.This isn’t a comprehensive list of everything that was going on during those times and what music during those decades was all about, but those are some the major points that really defined their generations and music.
Today, most of the popular, country, hip-hop, rock and EDM music doesn’t have those feelings and emotions that meant something to the other generations. I would say majority of the music I hear today seems empty when it comes to raw emotions that make you feel something and inspire you to act on those feelings, unlike the music that came before. A lot of music is just fluff that wants to make people feel good and doesn’t mean anything or stand for anything. Take, for example, one of the biggest songs of the last year, “Closer” by The Chainsmokers, or any Future, Drake or Taylor Swift song from the past couple years. Those songs show no real emotion and are generic and mindless, but people still love them. I’m not saying that all music has to win a Nobel prize – hey, I enjoy the mindless song every once in awhile – but music that lasts has weight to it. Most of the popular music today is weightless, mindless and if artists do try to push creative boundaries, they’re called out for it.
For example, when Beyoncé performed “Formation” at the Super Bowl, she was called out for dressing and forming like the Black Panthers, the controversial party that was created during the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement. An even more recent example is Snoop Dogg getting flak for his new music video where he pretends to shoot a parodied version of President Trump. When musicians try to push it, they get resistance. That the industry has evolved to promote a generic, hollow sound is a part of the reason most music now is all fluff. Still, the industry can’t change if the consumer doesn’t want it to. We are the ones that love to listen to and purchase these types of songs, so the industry is going to push the fluffy, radio-friendly music that has become popular today. Meanwhile, the true creative, talented artists are thrown to the side because of what’s trending on Spotify. Music is all about emotions and feelings and today’s music is lacking in that department.
Each generation before has also brought a new genre to the forefront and broadened our country’s musical palette while expanding on the genres that came before. The ‘50s brought rock ‘n’ roll, ‘60s brought funk, the ‘70s brought heavy metal, the ‘80s brought punk and hip hop and the ‘90s brought us grunge. Now, the genre that our generation has created is undoubtedly the worst. That genre is Electronic Dance Music, also known as “EDM,” or what I like to call “today’s Disco music.” This is the music that will be featured at Ultra and in most clubs you go to. I call it “today’s disco music” because it’s pretty much the same in terms of energy and fanbase. It makes you want to dance and party, it’s mindless, and it’s just made to have a good time. Unlike Disco, I think EDM is here to stay for the unforeseeable future. Unfortunately, I just don’t believe it will have the same impact or influence that the other genres had.
When I hear my friends and people who are into EDM talk about music, they don’t describe it like other genres are described. When music is judged, you judge the song or the musicians. With EDM, they talk about “beats” and “DJs.” Are DJs even real musicians if they don’t play any instruments and don’t sing? All they do is sit behind a computer and mix some pre-recorded sounds together to create a beat. When they perform, all they have is their table and DJ set where they press some buttons and adjust some sliders. These are people like Calvin Harris, DJ Snake, Steve Aoki and Chainsmokers to name some big ones. These guys get credited with songs instead of the actual singers and musicians performing the song. They just get a “featured” credit. Now, these DJs are undoubtedly talented at what they do, but I believe it’s much easier to learn and master what they do than to learn an instrument as comprehensively as someone like Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughan plays guitar, or like Neil Pert or John Bonham play drums. I know people who have being playing guitar and drums for over 30 years and still can’t play like those guys. These type of electronic musicians might be able to play instruments, but anytime I see them perform, I have never seen one play an actual instrument. Today’s big genre isn’t even being made by actual musicians – to me, this doesn’t seem right and doesn’t make sense considering the music that came before.
EDM fans also always bring up “beats” and not songs when describing the genre. When I listen to music, I listen to songs and not beats. That’s like saying in film, directors should be judged by the individual shots instead of scenes or the whole film. It’s not the shots that matter, but the film as a whole that matters that includes more that just how it looks. You have the acting, sound, design, etc. A beat is only one part of a song. In most genres, you have many things like the instruments, the lyrics, and the mix or master coming together to make something great. he only thing that seems to matter in EDM is the beat drop. Now I could be wrong and I would gladly let people who like EDM to explain more to me on why it’s a good genre, but this is just what I hear when people describe it and what I see from a peripheral perspective.
There are exceptions, though. I’m looking at Daft Punk, who were doing this way before it was popular like today. The big difference with them is that they actually play musical instruments and care about the song more than the beat or drop. They are an extremely talented duo.
When you compare each decade and take the top five most influential and talented musicians, our generation doesn’t compare. The top five can be debated for each decade – there are more than five that deserve to be mentioned. However, it was hard for me to come up with five artists from our generation that were even comparable to the other generations. A couple of them are debatable if they even count as coming from our generation.
The following top five lists are based on influence and talent -I’m not a fan of some of this music, but I understand the impact it had. The 1950s saw influential musicians like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, and Frank Sinatra. In the 1960s, there were The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, James Brown and Jimi Hendrix. The 1970s, you had Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder, Black Sabbath, Bruce Springsteen, and Tina Turner. The 1980s had Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, Metallica, and Run DMC. Then in the 1990s you had Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Biggie Smalls, Tupac and Mariah Carey. I left a lot of names out, but like I said, there were many that could and should be mentioned alongside those names.
Naming a top five of this generation was tough.. Five possible ones could be Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Kanye West, Justin Timberlake and Gary Clark Jr. Some of these are debatable as to whether or not they qualify as our generation. Beyoncé is without a doubt the most influential artist of our time, but she did start in the ‘90s with Destiny’s Child. But she didn’t become “Queen B” until the mid 2000s, so I counted her. The other name here that might seem controversial is Gary Clark Jr. Most people my age will ask “who’s that?” Clark Jr. is the most talented new musician I’ve seen and heard in my lifetime. He’s a mix of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan and might be the closest to Hendrix we’ve seen. Whoever has not heard of him should make an effort to listen – that’s how crazy talented he is. If this was any other decade, he would be one of the biggest musicians out there – and he should be.
Clark Jr. is on the list based on pure talent, but if I had to include someone else, it would be either Lady Gaga, the closest thing we’ve seen to Madonna, Adele because of her killer voice, or Kendrick Lamar, one of the best rappers in the last decade. But it still doesn’t matter. No matter who you put in the top five of this generation (except Beyoncé) there is no comparison to the other generations on impact and talent. Would you put Kanye West, Kendrick, or even Drake for that matter up with Biggie Smalls, Tupac or NWA and Jay Z who I didn’t mention? Justin Timberlake in the same breath as Michael Jackson and Prince? Taylor Swift with Janis Joplin, Dolly Parton and Stevie Nicks? Even Beyoncé doesn’t compare in pure singing talent to Aretha Franklin or Tina Turner. So if our top artists today can’t even be mentioned in the same breadth, then people like Future, Justin Bieber, Chance the Rapper, Rihanna, Nikki Minaj or Katy Perry (who I love) have no chance.
It seems like most industries have been pointing the arrow up when it comes to growth and influence as technology and other things have gotten better, but with music it seems like the arrow is pointing straight down in many regards. I do see a bright light, though, as I see talents like Bruno Mars, The Weeknd, Gary Clark Jr. and Ariana Grande starting to take what came before and bring it out in a new and exciting way. For now, we are living in the worst generation of music to date.