In this day and age when music is going through another transformation where rap amusic is trying to find itself in the midst of the materialism, misogyny, and filthy lyrics, many people from my generation are holding fast to the old school music of the 70’s, and 80’s.
I want to start off by saying that I’m not dismissing all the music of this generation or rap and hip-hop in particular but I am saying that a great deal of today’s music is without substance and creativity. Perhaps, it’s the sign of our times since music has always reflected the pulse of the happenings in the nation and the world. With an unpopular war raging in the middle East, violence and drug use rampant, the gap between rich and poor growing, the AIDS epidemic unabated, and other problems troubling the world, its no wonder that today’s music is often discordant, narrow-minded, and materialistic.
If we look back on the past decades, we can get a feel for how old school music got its birth. The 60’s was the period when soul music and rhythm and blues was in its heyday and moved to the forefront. Detroit, Chicago, and Memphis were epicenters of the various musical sounds that created classics songs that would endure for generations. The Motown hit-factory produced the super groups and artists such as the Temptations, the Supremes, the Four Tops, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight and the Pips. The Chicago sound evolved from its pipeline directly from the blues and produced groups such as the Dells, Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, Jerry Butler, Jackie Wilson and many others. Memphis brought artists such as Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and Rufus Thomas. These artists would go on to influence a generation of other performers.
During the 60’s the music echoed the changing times that swept the nation as it dealt with the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement, Civil Rights, the Sexual Revolution, and the advent of the drug culture. Many songs from that period were a testament to the mood of that was sweeping the country. Songs such as “War” by Edwin Starr, “What’s Going On,” by Marvin Gaye, “Blowin In The Wind,” by Bob Dylan, “People Get Ready,” by the Impressions, “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud,” by James Brown and many others urged the nation to consider and respond to the events that were happening at the time.
As we moved into the 70’s, things such as integration, feminism, environmentalism, the end of the war, and the focus on self-expression took center stage, and the music shifted to again reflect the times and the moods of the nation. This was the period when the music expanded from soul, rhythm and blues, to funk, the Philadelphia sound, and disco. From the earlier influences of the 60’s came groups and artists such as Earth, Wind, and Fire, the Commodores, Chi-Lites, O’Jays, War, Spinners, Parliament-Funkadelic, Ohio Players, LTD, Jackson 5, Chaka Khan and Rufus. These groups fused the music of many other generations into their own variations of R&B, pop, and funk. The groups of this era moved from performances that featured doo-wop styled singing and fancy footwork of the 60’s to more elaborate stage productions that featured unusual themes, musical experimentation, and new technology. Anyone who attended an Earth, Wind, & Fire or Parliament-Funkadelic concert can attest to the amazing shows these groups stage that included eclectic costumes, innovative and electrifying stunts, dazzling brass sections, unique guitar and keyboarding playing, that played to packed arenas.
This period had a preponderance of bands that wrote and performed their own music. Having the ability to play an instrument was vital even though use of synthesizers and electronically produced music were beginning to make serious inroads. The longevity of the groups were based on this ability to create and play their own music and not rely solely on the production back in the studio.
Many of the artists and groups from the 60’s such as the Temptations, Four Tops, Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder continued to flourish and produce hits into the 70’s and 80’s. It was during the 70’s that saw the rise of disco. Despite the feelings by many that the disco era was a period when music took a step backwards, disco brought many new groups to the forefront. Groups such as Chic, Change, Brass Construction, MFSB, KC and the Sunshine Band, and others epitomized the pulsating and orchestrated music that brought dancing back in vogue.
From the early influences of James Brown who begat Sly and the Family Stone who begat George Clinton and his Parliament-Funkadelic bands, came the music known as Funk. This sub-genre led to groups such as Lakeside, ConFunkShun, the Gap Band, Cameo, Bar-Kays, Skyy, the SOS Band and the list goes on and on.
When rap burst onto the scene in the late 70’s and early 80’s, it was playful and focus primarily on the boastful and showmanship of the MC’s and deejays. It would be later when the other forms of rap such as gangsta and hardcore rap, began to propel music on the course that we find ourselves on today. Rap’s origins originated from the urban deejays use of the existing music of the time by sampling and “scratching” to come up with the new sound. The first big rap hit of the era, “Rappers Delight” used Chic’s “Good Times” as the underlying beat that fueled the record. If we fast-forward to the 90’s and today, we can cite the use of Rick James’ “Super Freak” by MC Hammer on his hit “Can’t Touch This” or DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s use of the Kool and the Gang’s “Summer Madness” overlayed by his rapping on “Summertime.”
Despite the advent of rap, the artists of the 70’s and 80’s that cut their teeth during the old school period are still making music today. The old school style of music that they championed is still appreciated and loved by listeners, young and old. The music from old school artists is found on commercials, in movies, and in remakes and samples by today’s artists. Old school music is still just as prominent today as it was back in the day.