40 Years of Musical Trends and Genre Burnouts

To everything there is a season. When something new comes along, we jump on it, beat it do death and then move onto the Next Big Thing. Radio consultant Sean Ross looks at 40 years of musical trends.

It’s hard to imagine now, but of course the era of trap pop will end, and take its squawking manipulated vocal samples with it. Of course, not every new song will be built on a loping tropical-house beat. And when that happens, of course I’ll remember some of those songs fondly. It depends a lot on what comes next. But most genre booms start with promise and end up cheapened by copycatting and Top 40’s tendency to overindulge any hot sound.

Recently, I asked Ross on Radio readers to help compile their list of the hot sounds that had gone wrong. And as I began to work my way through 40 years of genre burnout, it was hard to remember some genres feeling that oppressive in the first place:

Let’s start with Disco. If pressed, I suppose I could say that the cheesiest, poppiest distillation of disco, the one usually practiced by bandwagon-jumping pop stars, began to grate on me somewhere between Wings’ “Goodnight Tonight” and the moment that Helen Reddy climbed aboard. I also resented those acts who could change musical direction again afterwards, while a lot of R&B acts (people who weren’t even “disco” except in the sense that all uptempo R&B had become disco) never returned to pop radio.

But it’s hard to stay mad at “Take Me Home” by Cher, when I was only indifferent at the time. As for the rest of disco, I have only good things to say. It was really three or four genres, including R&B. The records still hold up now. They helped AC radio brighten a decade ago (before the format moved away from the ‘70s), and they’re the only thing that keeps Classic Hits now from being all-corporate rock.

Great disco records continued to exist after the fall of 1979. You just had to hear them on R&B radio. Or discover them somehow, the way that Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson did, since both “Uptown Funk” and “24K Magic” are tributes to that era. You can say that all genres are softened by time, but there was never really anything unfriendly about “Forget Me Nots” by Patrice Rushen or “Love Come Down” by Evelyn King. People never chafed at songs like those; for the most part they just didn’t hear them.

Speaking of Corporate Rock, I have only fond memories as well. “More Than a Feeling” and “Don’t Stop Believin’” are burnt for me, but the second and third tier (Boston, “Feeling Satisfied”; Journey, “Ask the Lonely”) still sound pretty great. I’d still rather hear them than a lot of the more ponderous first-generation Classic Rock. And the notion that harmony and melody could be used to soften edgier elements was the formula that made West Coast Hip-Hop more than a decade later.

Oh, there’s more. Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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