So I’ve done posts on my favorite classical and jazz pieces, but I realized later that I neglected one genre that still merits discussion here. While I don’t have as many oldies in my music collection as the previous two genres, they are still prevalent and I thought it would be interesting to examine them and trace how they’ve influenced the music of today.
I’ve found I can break my favorite oldies into three categories: pop, folk/singer-songwriter, and classic rock. So I think I’ll take a look at each of these groups separately, so as to draw clearer lines between classic and modern music.
By far, the most recognizable influences can be seen in the pop genre, which The Beatles practically invented. Their influence on pop and rock music of today is very easy to hear. The Beatles’ career can be thought of in two distinct halves, and I’m going to focus on the first half in this section. The influence of songs like “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Twist and Shout” can still be seen in modern music. These have a very strong rhythmic backbone that make them very easy to dance to, and many artists since then have used such a beat as a foundation for their hits. For instance, take a listen to the latter song above, and compare it to Cascada’s dance hit “Everytime We Touch” and a more contemporary song, Walk The Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance.”
The Beatles’ influence on music of today also extends to their lyrics as well. Listen to the lyrics of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” next to One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful.” Sound familiar? You’ll often hear the Beatles described by younger generations as “the One Direction of the Sixties,” and there actually are some parallels. The Beatles were wildly popular in their day, and were most popular with the 13-20 year old female demographic, much like One Direction. However, the similarities probably end there, as the Beatles were a band with strong musicianship skills who wrote all of their own music, rather than being stitched together by major-label execs.
While the Beatles were far from the first artist to use the strong backbeat and romance-centric lyrics, they were probably the most influential. One of my other favorites, Cher, continued this tradition when she started her career in the late Sixties and early Seventies. My favorite classic hit of hers is probably “Dark Lady,” whose lyrical content is a bit different, but has the strong danceable beat. Three Dog Night’s hit “Joy to the World,” is a similar example.
In the singer/songwriter category, my favorites are probably Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam, and Peter, Paul, & Mary. Peter, Paul, & Mary came first, and helped bring roots rock into the mainstream with standards such as “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Cat Stevens built on this, and my favorite of his is probably “Moonshadow.” What I like most about these songs is their stripped-down, acoustic style that is elegant and pleasing in its simplicity. Songs like these really show off the artists’ talents, because there’s little if any production or “studio magic” to hide behind.
You can see the influence of artists like them in the countless rock artists who perform acoustic versions of their recordings, but also in music by such modern singers as Iron & Wine, whose song “Naked As We Came” reminds me of the above songs.
By far, though, most of my favorite oldies are in the rock genre. Aerosmith helped shape contemporary rock into the guitar-driven solofest that it is now. Their lyrics are what I’d call “party rock,” and many, many later artists have adopted the same aesthetic. My favorite classic hit of theirs is probably “Sweet Emotion,” which mostly falls into this category.
Eric Clapton, another favorite, helped elevate guitar playing into an art form. I first discovered him when I heard the 1992 unplugged version of “Layla” on the radio, but his hits go way back, such as the soulful “Wonderful Tonight.”
Billy Joel fused upbeat and fun rock with the strong, danceable pop beats that I talked about above with the more intricate instrumentation of rock artists. You can hear that in my favorite of his, “Movin’ Out.”
The second half of the Beatles’ career found them experimenting with more sophisticated sounds and themes. Songs like “Back in the USSR” and “Revolution” saw them tilt more toward the rock side of things, though their more pop and radio-friendly sensibilities were still intact. These songs also reflected a growing mindfulness of world events that were affecting the band and their fans. Artists such as Alter Bridge and Alanis Morissette carry on this legacy by fusing social awareness with rock sounds.
Finally, we get a little further afield with Rush. Rush was one of the pioneers of progressive rock, with unorthodox beats and songs that didn’t follow the traditional verse-chorus structure of most rock music. Every time I listen to Rush, they remind me of bands like Tool that took that style and ran with it. My favorite Rush songs are actually their more modern singles, but I think they still capture the same progressive style that they’ve made their trademark over the years.