Am I the only person who has observed that the popular songs that used to be labelled “rock”—or even “hard rock” music—in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, now sound like show tunes when compared to the apocalyptic drone of EDM (Electronic Dance Music) and the bland, autotuned pop that predominates today? Old rock songs just had a lot more music in them; more melody, harmony, complex background vocals, changes of time signature, and soaring tenor and baritone voices over heavily orchestrated choruses. I realize all this may sound rather curmudgeonly, but that doesn’t trouble me. After all, I’m a critic. It’s my role to be disgusted and lippy and, truth be told, some things actually were better then.
It’s not that the old songs have changed, but my perception of them has. This explains why I’ve spent more and more time looking backward as I move forward. There’s so much I missed the first time around because my ears weren’t ready. 1000 listens to Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall before the age of 12 will slow you down in the Led Zeppelin department.
David Bowie is another excellent case in point. Of course in the 1970s I knew his hits that crossed over to Top-40 radio, like Fame, Golden Years and Young Americans, and by the 1980s, say from 1983’s Let’s Dance forward, Bowie and I were completely on the same page. But recently I’ve gone back and dug deeply into the classic albums that I was less familiar with and I must say, the music is amazing. Though I knew Ziggy Stardust and Station to Station pretty well from the 1980s, as of late I’ve been fairly obsessed with Heroes (1977), which to me sounds like nothing as much as a very hip Broadway musical or movie score.
When something old is new to me, I pretend that it is a new album that just came out, which makes me feel much better about what really just came out.
Here is a music video of Bowie singing the title song from Heroes back in 1977. It is still quite captivating—even features his original snaggle teeth.