I know … this is kind of a click-bait title and subject, but the question is: “If you have to choose a 10-year stretch of music, which would it be?”
Before I get into my ideas about this, post your thoughts in the comments section. I’d love to know what you have to say about it.
My suggestion right out of the gate is that most people will have a natural affinity for what was popular when they were young, so the best 10 years of music will likely be what was released when they were between 15 and 25 years of age.
You’ll get outliers that will be in their teens today who will still say something like 1960 t0 1969. Beatles and the British Invasion. Motown. California hippies. Etc.
Statistics are a little tricky because measurement tools were very inconsistent until recently.
Earlier periods (especially before the 1960s) had very little evidence showing how many songs were released and how popular they may have been. We have no idea how many times an old ‘ditty’ was played on the piano at a party or gathering of 100 people. Or how often a gospel tune was sung in a choir at a Baptist church.
The Historical Data …
What data we have shows the following as the TOP 10 years for music, based on a combination of albums released, songs purchased and concerts attended:
- 1969 – total rank score 401,170; total albums 1,515; “Abbey Road” top album
- 1972 – total rank score 378,555; total albums 1,603; Led Zeppelin IV top album. “Imagine” released.
- 1967 – total rank score 369,747; total albums 982; “Sgt Pepper’s” top album; “Respect”, The Doors
- 1994 – total rank score 325,511; total albums 2,787; “Grace” (Jeff Buckley) top album, grunge hits a peak, despite (or because of?) Kurt Cobain’s suicide.
- 1973 – total rank score 312225; total albums 1,596; “Dark Side of the Moon”, Pink Floyd. KISS. The Boss releases “Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ”.
- 1997 – total rank score 305,563; total albums 2,928; “OK Computer”, Radiohead. Spice Girls & Hanson balance the greatness of Radiohead.
- 1991 – total rank score 301,721; total albums 2,286; “Nevermind” Nirvana. The CIA writes ‘Winds of Change’ for the Scorpions (kidding. kind of).
- 1972 – total rank score 297,386; total albums 1,648; “Ziggy…”, Bowie. Wings again balance the ugh of American Pie.
- 2007 – total rank score 294,538; total albums 3,906; “In Rainbows”, Radiohead.
- 1970 – total rank score 288,260; total albums 1,562; “Paranoid”, Black Sabbath. No wonder because the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel break up and Hendrix dies.
NOTE: ‘total rank score’ =
The Rationale & Context for My Choice …
Technically, that’s 11 years, but hear me out.
Most of the great icons of the 40s (well, less), 50s, 60s are still alive.
Many of the great bands of the 60s – and the musicians that formed them – are still putting out music. Brian Wilson. John, Paul, George AND Ringo.
In the list below (from the same source), note the range of highlights in each year. A little classic stuff, from an existing broad range (jazz, blues, folk, ‘Broadway, musicals). A little new stuff. A continued ‘sweep’ of albums added to an artist’s collection. A massive debut (eg. Van Halen, 1978).
The RANGE of musical styles and experimentation were hitting stride, being introduced and/or building on previous experience.
Not only were the styles expanding, but the media formats were increasing as well. I mentioned the Walkman, but Sony also launched the CD player in 1982, releasing the world from not-so-portable vinyl to portable CD formats. I’ve mentioned music videos, which were being seen everywhere, but movies were specific to soundtracks (The Wall) but soundtracks were vital to movies (most John Hughes films).
Music stopped being a backdrop to other mainstream formats. It became a pumping lifeblood of many formats.
Back to the Ten Best Years of Music …
1975 to 1985 represent the best decade of music.
My opinion, but I hope I’ve stated the case.
If you still don’t believe me, check out this list:
- 1975 – ‘Wish You Were Here’, SNL debut, Queen
- 1976 – ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ (Stevie Wonder), Frampton Comes Alive, Sex Pistols
- 1977 – ‘Rumours’, Elvis dies, ‘Saturday Night Fever’, ‘Hotel California’
- 1978 – ‘Darkness of the Edge of Town’ (Springsteen), ‘Grease’, Van Halen debut
- 1979 – ‘London Calling’, ‘Off the Wall’ (Michael Jackson). Joy Division. Highway to Hell. Fleetwood Mac ‘Tusk’.
- 1980 – ‘Remain in Light’ (Talking Heads), John Lennon murdered. Blondie ‘Call Me’. Blues Brothers.
- 1981 – Go-gos. Human League. RUSH. Brian Eno. Journey. Police. Rolling Stones. Black Flag.
- 1982 – Sony launches the CD player. ‘Thriller’. ‘The Wall’ released in theatres. The Cure. Kate Bush. Roxy Music.
- 1983 – ‘Murmur’, REM. Debut albums from Metallica & Madonna (not together). Tom Waits. David Bowie. U2. Pink Floyd. New Order. Talking Heads, the Police and many, many more.
- 1984 – Prince (Purple Rain). Springsteen. Husker Du. Wham! The Smiths. Cocteau Twins (and the invention of ‘shoegaze’). Weird Al.
- 1985 – ‘Unforgettable Fire’, U2. Spin Magazine launched. VH1 launched. ‘We Are the World’ comes in response to the UK effort (‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’).
Many other bands like XTC, Beastie Boys, Talk Talk, Genesis (and solo acts of Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins), Sonic Youth and others continued to expand the musical universe in very unique ways.
Electronic music was riding the wave of advances in technology.
Hardware companies were latching on to the demand for new guitars, pianos, keyboards, drums and more with different tones that would ultimately result in another step in the expansion of musical range.
Summary & Your Thoughts
The beautiful thing about music is that many people will disagree and hopefully post their thoughts below. Try to be passionate without being offensive, please.
A notable omission from the collection above is everything that has been released since 1985. Jeff Tweedy was a live and maybe even writing songs. The band members of The National were probably just putting a few licks together.
Your favourite performer may not have even been alive yet!
Like all things, today’s greatest stand on the shoulders of yesterday’s giants.
Music is a neverending construction being built up brick by brick and eventually we’ll all see the grand design.
Or maybe we’ll just add a whole new condo development down the road …