- words by Renee Cuisia and graphics by Trisha Carpena
The phrase “defined a generation” is often, and perhaps even loosely, used. We all know that The Beatles was arguably the kids of the 60s’ voice, and Nirvana was the 90s. But we also know that in the 1960s, a renaissance moment for music, there was a boom in musical talents that gave birth to, say, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Joni Mitchell, among others, and The Beatles were just the crowning, topping glory. In respect to that, here are some other not-so famous icons that defined (and sometimes, redefined) the music of their generations, per decade.
The majority of music listeners in the early 20th century were still largely focused on their music—Westerners, for example, were deep into classical music, while the rest of us indulged in our local favorites. So it was somewhat of a revolution when music like Shelton Brooks and Sophie Tucker started making their way into theaters and phonographs. The jazzy, tapping sounds of the music each artist made resonated with many audiences, especially those sick of hearing traditional orchestrations.
Speaking of jazzy, the 1920s music were all about it. A mix of African American and American European sound gave rise to this upbeat sound that had partygoers and groundshakers up all night in rhythmic leg-swinging dances in tune to the likes of Cole Porter, Tex Beneke and Bob Crosby and the Bobcats. Cole Porter was a special favorite, with hits such as "Let's Do It" and "Anything Goes." George Gershwin was also a favorite of the decade—his orchestrations are slower but just as grand. "Rhapsody in Blue", a famous hit of the decade, is still a favorite to this day.
After the bang of the 1920s came the Great Depression, which generally shocked people of their previous extravagance and made them turn to, well, simpler music. That’s not to say that the next hits were plain—no, these were powerfully packed with ache, sentiment and soul, perhaps a cry for easier times, but also a hopeful note for a better future. The likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, and Billie Holliday, with their strong, powerful voices, became favorites to listen to. It was them who immortalized songs such as "Dream A Little Dream of Me", "Unforgettable", and "Stars Fell On Alabama".
After the war, spirits started to lift once more and as art imitates life (and vice versa), so did the music. Apart from the mentioned crooners,Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra started to jive into the people’s natural urge to tap and dance once more. With songs like "Sway", "Volare", "Fly Me To The Moon" and "Girl From Ipanema", dance floors became alive with energy once more.
But that energy is nothing compared to the next decade (and the following decades, for that matter). With the rise of teenage awareness came the explosion of a long pent-up energy, which was redirected everywhere—rebellion, movies, art, and of course, music. Groups started to become popular. Bill Haley and the Comets, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers—suddenly, groups of very young people were becoming famous. None perhaps more famous then than Buddy Holly and the Crickets who inspired everyone from Roy Orbison to the Beatles with their rock bopping music. "Peggy Sue" and "That'll Be Day" to name a few were songs that established this overlooked talent's fame. On the softer side of the 50's music spectrum, female crooners such as Pattie Page and Doris Day sung about that ever famous topic L-O-V-E and were in return, loved for it. "If I Give My Heart To You", "When I Fall In Love With You", and "Til We Meet Again" are some examples.
It just keeps getting better and better. The rock revolution of the 50s was great, but the 60s introduced an entirely new music experience. With the advent of experimental drugs such as LSD, artists created sounds and songs that captured that new wave, explosive feeling. The Grateful Dead was a band that specialized on this—their psychedelic rock music was an immediate favorite by both the hippies of the counterculture that started in San Francisco and the general audience alike. You don't have to take my word for it; just listen to the whole American Beauty album, like Lindsay Weir, to be convinced and further, to become a fellow Deadhead. Another big favorite was Joni Mitchell, whose soulful, poetic lyrics on folksy guitar strums charmed and awed listeners. All her songs tug the heartstrings, but my personal (and everyone's aparently?) favorite is Blue which if you haven't yet, should totally check out.
As rock took over the world, there emerged different variations of the genre as well. Among those that flourished in this groovy decade were punk and glam rock. Bands like the Ramones and the Sex Pistols, ruled the punk side of rock, but just as iconic in their look and music were Blondie, led by the inimitable Debbie Harry and guitarist Chris Stein. Songs like "Heart of Glass" and "One Way Or Another" became instant classics. And as for glam, David Bowie was one of the few solo acts who pioneered this genre. Bowie, in all his makeup glory, sang brillant songs such as "Life On Mars?", "Heroes" and "Moonage Daydream."
Madonna may be eternally remembered as the Material Girl in leotards girls all around the wall danced to, but Cyndi Lauper was just as potent with the fanatic pink energy. Songs like "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" became the anthem of innumerable sleepovers for the whole (and perhaps more) of this decade. It was also during this time that alt-rock started to gain its momentum, with Sonic Youth arguably leading the scene. Daydream Nation was one of their biggest albums, which contained the anthemic single, "Teen Age Riot."
The 90s is Indie music mecca. As the idea of identity became more and more widespread, music taste became more and more important. Pop wasn’t enough anymore for some, and so a lot to turned to more personal, even cynical ones. Which was why, apart from sheer talent, the Scottish folk band Belle and Sebastian rose to icon-status in this decade. Songs such as “I’m Not Living In The Real World” and “A Century of Fakers” caught the attention of restless, despaired youths. It’s more than teen angst though; Belle and Sebastian voiced out, in beautiful tunes nonetheless, the important worries and thoughts young people have. On music’s more popular side, among plenty othersMariah Carey shone as an icon-in-the-making, with her unique sweet and fast voice. Hits such as "Always Be My Baby", "Endless Love", "Hero", and the now Holiday classic (and my personal Christmas favorite--Love Actually amirite?) "All I Want For Christmas Is You" penetrated almost every household and captured all our fancy. Mariah became the generation’s new Diva, and her svelte image a legend.
- words by Renee Cuisia and graphics by Trisha Carpena