Anyone who knows me knows that I love music, especially music from the 1950s through the 1980s. I have nothing against the music of today, but I find the music from back then to be superior to what’s out there now. By the end of this article, maybe you’ll see my side of things when it comes to classic music and be more open to it. Perhaps you’ll listen to some songs that I recommend and actually enjoy them.
One of things I like about classic music is that it is much purer. Allow me to explain. Back then, recording capabilities were very limited. Of course, technology has improved tenfold since then. But with the digital boom and the use of software like Adobe Audition, you can record anything and tweak it however you like. Back then, you had very limited editing abilities, so for the most part, what you had was what you had. Today’s music is nice, but it isn’t “real”. It’s been touched up considerably and has likely strayed from its original sound. Music back then stayed truer to its real sound, which is why many artists from that era sound the same when they preform live, while today, it is hard for musicians to duplicate their studio sound during their live shows.
One of my favorite “pure sound” bands is America. A wonderful soft rock band of the 1970s, the trio has great harmonies that go together with simple, catchy melodies. The layering of the instruments with the harmonies led to the success of this group, who were Produced by George Martin, who previously produced The Beatles. I recommend the tracks Sister Golden Hair and Ventura Highway to give you the full feel of the band.
Another reason I enjoy the music from back then is because the songs had meaning. Nothing against songs that are in the rap genre, but the music from back then can actually tell a story and convey some meaning. By no means am I dissing rap. The rap lyrics do have meaning to the artist, but to an average listener, the meaning gets lost if it isn’t clear or is hard to understand. Look at songs from back then. They clearly have a beginning, middle, and end. They actually have some sort of meaning in the lyrics. That’s why one of the things I love most about music is the story aspect. Obviously, I like some good rhythms too, but I often find myself more fascinated with the lyrical story and block out the rest of the music.
James Taylor is a great example of this concept. James Taylor is one of the last surviving musicians of the prolific singer-songwriter era of the late 1960s/early 1970s. For the most part, he is merely acoustic rock. It isn’t anything flashy on stage. When you take away all the glitz, you’re left with the core: lyrics. Taylor has written some of the most beautifully moving standards of the last 50 years. I’d go as far as to say songs that might be played at weddings. Sorry Kanye, but you’re not going to be played as the first dance between bride and groom at a wedding anytime soon. I recommend the tracks Something in the Way She Moves, Fire and Rain, and Carolina in My Mind to get the James Tylor feel.
One of the great things about music from back then was that you could tell where the real talent was. Nowadays, with all the recording technology and editing software available, even the most tone deaf of people can become musicians. Back then, the cream would rise to the top and you knew who was good. Gone is the era of the silky smooth voice that needs very little correction, if any at all. Today, you see people who can create and perform music, but don’t have the right skills to truly bring the song to life.
The Carpenters are the epitome of pure talent. A soft rock duo of the early 1970s, Karen and Richard Carpenter brought soft rock mainstream with their great harmonies. In my eyes, Karen is the greatest female voice in the history of music. Her voice has the purest sound of any female singer of any era of any genre. I recommend the songs Rainy Days and Mondays and We’ve Only Just Begun to get a feel for her voice.
Something else great about classic music is that you had sub-genres. Today it’s all lumped together as pop. But back then, you had soft rock, yacht rock, love songs, dance songs, soul, disco, and about 50 other categories where the songs could be unique to their own genre, but still considered mainstream. You had a lot of crossover between genres, but nevertheless, those categories existed. Now we lump everything together in one category, even if it doesn’t belong. That takes away from the uniqueness of music if we don’t acknowledge that it might share similarities, but is also unique to a specific category.
The band Chicago truly embodies the crossover band stereotype. Chicago has brought its unique flair to the music world for over 50 years. They were one of the first mainstream rock bands to utilize horns in their songs, and they clearly showed the importance of appealing to several types of music fans. With a lineup currently consisting of 10 guys, each member is clearly talented in their own right, whether it is by singing, playing guitar or trombone, or writing deeply beautiful love songs. They were mainstream rock, but they also fit into the jazz, soul, disco, love, and soft rock categories. I recommend the tracks 25 or 6 to 4, You’re the Inspiration, and Street Player to truly highlight the diversity of the musical genres this band fits into.
One of the coolest things about classic music is the intimacy of live shows. Don’t get me wrong, I love a stadium show as much as the next guy, but you aren’t getting the full effect of the music. The musicians sound louder than normal, the amount of people in one place is considerably larger than other venues, and the pricing for everything is through the roof. If you want to see a real craftsman at work, go see a classic musician playing at a small venue that has less than 3,000 seats. The smaller the venue, the better. The setting is more intimate. You feel closer to the artist.
Of all the concerts I’ve been to, Gordon Lightfoot was the most intimate of all. Nothing flashy in the setup department. A few amplifiers and the usual suspects: keyboard, drums, bass, and a few guitars. A simple, relaxing light show to match the beautiful stories Lightfoot conveys through his music. He’s become one of my favorite artists because of this. I have so much respect for the dedication to the craft as well as the effort he puts in to his live shows. Lightfoot is north of 80 years old and has survived lots of health issues in recent years, so the fact that he tours is mind boggling. It will be the most relaxed concert you’ll ever go to, and that is a promise. I recommend the songs If You Could Read My Mind, Don Quixote, and The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald to get the full scope of his music.
I’m very passionate about classic music, so I tried my hardest not to rant at you. Considering you’re still reading, I take it I accomplished that part of my goal. But seriously though, there’s a lot of great music that you likely don’t know about. As outlined throughout this article, there’s a variety of reasons why classic music is great. I’m not saying that today’s music is bad or that I hate a specific genre either. I respect all forms of music, but I believe that we must listen and take note of the beauty of classic music as we make music in the future. As they say, we learn from our past as we look forward to what lies ahead. Give older music a look. You’ll be happy you did.