This post’s title comes from Paul Simon’s “Boy in the Bubble,” a song about the trials and tribulations of the modern world. We can certainly say that we have come to a very skewed reality when we find our heroes on the pop charts instead of working in orphanages, hospices and soup kitchens or devoting their lives to the cause of freedom and justice. Nonetheless, who these heroes are tend to say something about us and our times. While I would still encourage each and every one of us to look beyond pop culture and find the real heroes among us, the point of this site remains, for better or worse, music and, by extension, it at least wanders around the periphery of celebrity culture in the hopes of getting inside and finding something real.
So, what’s the point of this post? Well, a friend and I were discussing who were the “artists of each decade.” That seems simple enough, but as it turned out, we found a great many points of debate. In a sense, this is not a question about great music, but about artists associated with watershed moments in both music and culture. We found that identifying those moments helped us to rule certain artists in and out of consideration. We also found that some decades were more difficult to narrow down than others.
Here’s a first pass at the task at hand which came out of our conversation. I’m attempting to link the artist to some moment or cultural change, something more than just musically pivotal. Keep in mind that these choices are not about subjective preferences or the somewhat objective notion about the “best.” This is about music’s role in the bigger picture.
|50s||Elvis Presley||Elvis broke the race barrier in reverse. He brought the energy, excitement and sexuality of “race” records to white teenagers, allowing subsequent generations to avoid Perry Como (except at Christmastime).||Buddy Holly|
|60s||The Beatles||Starting with Rubber Soul, rock n roll began to evolve into rock. By Sgt Peppers, rock music had gone from the teen craze of the 50s to something that had to be taken seriously artistically. Everything changed and their influence is pervasive even today.||None.|
|70s||The Clash||After the Beatles put the head into rock music, it began to go too far. Punk returned the heart, but the Clash proved that both heart and head could co-exist.||Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Ramones, Sex Pistols|
|80s||Michael Jackson||MTV. As if that weren’t enough, Jackson’s music re-broke the race barrier that had sprung up in rock music. By the middle of the decade, three punks from NYC were a top hip-hop act and 70s rock dinosaurs Aerosmith were re-energized by working with Run DMC.||U2, Prince|
|90s||Nirvana||Every teenager in America traded the shiny, thin veneer of the 80s for flannel and self-loathing when they heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and the alternative ironically became mainstream.||Jane’s Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers? Nah, culturally, nothing in the decade compares.|
|00s||Fall Out Boy||They got signed to a major label based on plays on Myspace,ushering in an era that set traditional A&R on its ear.||TV on the Radio|
So, what do you think? Who would you consider the “artist of the decade” for each? What do you think are the events surrounding them? What does the ease or difficulty of narrowing it down in certain decades tell us about that time?