Good and Bad Musical Fads

Popular music thrives on fads, trends and sounds that come and go. When rock’n’roll first appeared in the 1950s, many dismissed it as something that would run its course in a couple of years. In fact, at one point in the late 50s, predictions were made that rock would be usurped by the mature sounds of folk or–wait for it–calypso. The early 60s were dominated by dance crazes (Twist, Mashed Potato, Limbo), an idea that keeps coming back (the hustle, the robot, voguing, the humpty dance, doing the Bartman, the lambada, twerking, Harlem shake, etc.).  Pop and rock went through many phases: garage rock, bubblegum, prog, glam and all the things that followed punk.

After reading through the above, you’ll probably agree that there are good fads and not-so-good ones. The latter included a late 70s/early 80s iteration dubbed “yacht rock.” Radio consultant Sean Ross takes a look at the abomination.

That term didn’t exist in the early ‘80s, but people knew that the midtempo Doobie Brothers/Kenny Loggins/Christopher Cross sound that was the beginning of Smooth Jazz had become overabundant. After a few years of Michael Christopher CrossMcDonald soundalike hits, researcher Rob Balon coined another term to describe the phenomenon, taking to the trade press to warn stations of “genre burnout.” Finally, McDonald gave the genre its own coda, with “I Keep Forgetting.” Then “Tainted Love,” “Don’t You Want Me” and “Mickey” swooped in.

I’ve been thinking about genre burnout a lot in light of the various EDM-inflected trends that have dominated CHR (and all pop formats) for the past 18 months. It is inevitable that Top 40 will overindulge hot new sounds. Every musical trend goes through several rounds of copycat hits. Every trend attracts veteran artists looking for a comeback, or just to follow the music.

Every musical trend has its good moments. It’s the lack of variety that becomes an issue. There were yacht rock records I liked well enough at the time. When those songs were flanked by disco and the phenomena of “Rumours” and “Hotel California,” they hardly rankled. Back then, yacht rock was merely, well, smoke from a distant fire. It was 1980-81 when disco and R&B were exiled, new wave hadn’t quite kicked in, and the Doobies clones were everywhere (bringing with them very little tempo and energy) that top 40 radio was at its dreariest.

You can read the rest of his post here. Meanwhile, please enjoy some Pablo Cruise.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ 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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