Q&A: Why was music from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s so much better than today’s music?

KEITH R writes ...

“Better?” I am an old turd (late 50’s) music fan that writes album reviews for a local publication, and let me assure you, there is a lot of GREAT music still being made today, by VERY talented musicians. You have to WANT to find it, and you have to get over your biases. Where do these biases come from?

1. Selective memory - You have the luxury of looking back and selecting the BEST of the music from the preceding decades to listen to, and rejecting the rest, and believe me, there was a whole crap ton of the rest that we have forgotten about. Muskrat Love, anyone?

2. Emotional attachment - The songs you remember as great often coincide with pivotal events in your life that release endorphins, from a time when you were just a big soup of hormones. So, the songs themselves may not necessarily great, but the association is. As you got married and money and time had to go to things other than searching the record store for new artists, you may have stopped taking the time needed to appreciate decent new stuff and sift it out from the sea of fluff.

3. Radio / streaming - You used to be able to find great new music, and a lot of bilge, by listening to the radio. No more! Radio (and record labels) used to be run by lovers of music. Now, there are so many other distractions in people’s lives that they are competing for a decreasing slice of your attention pie. They can’t take risks anymore on songs that “might” catch on with time. They have to go with a repeat of what has worked before, and go with the least common denominators. So, they don’t necessarily play music people like, just music no one necessarily dislikes, in order to stay afloat. Streaming has taken much of the profit out of the music, so record companies can no longer afford to take chances, either. The conclusion to draw from this is: Don’t rely on radio to introduce you to good new music like it did in the past. You’re going to have to dig, on the Internet, on word of mouth, and elsewhere, to hear the great stuff coming out today.

I have many friends my age that I tell about new groups and great albums coming out, and I get that deer-in-the-headlights look, like ‘nothing good has come out since 1979.’ As a musician still making music and a writer, that is frustrating. If you’ve closed your mind like that, all the musicians still making great music today can’t help you, and they can’t make a living making good music, and you will be stuck with your memories and just what is on the radio.

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