A recent study by two London universities analyzed the evolution of American music in the past 50 years.
Using computers to analyze over 17-thousand songs from the Billboard Hot 100, they were able to pinpoint the exact years that music changed direction: 1964, 1983 and 1991. The report also challenges the popular belief that music quality has suffered over the years.
Examining popular music over the past 50 years, some trends came to light. In the early 60s, dominant seventh chords, like those commonly found in jazz and blues, had disappeared from charts. The sound was replaced by more aggressive-sounding British rock from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. British rock would become the sound of the “first revolution.” Funk from the 70s gave rise to the power chords, drum machines and synthesizers that dominated the airwaves in the 80s. By 1991, rap was king.
The study also revealed that the artists who lead each major breakthrough in music would frequently combine harmonic and rhythmic elements present in different genres to create a new sound.
Today on AirTalk, we examine the top songs of each era and try to predict where popular music could go from here.
Matthias Mauch, Ph.D., Royal Academy of Engineering Research Fellow with the Centre for Digital Music at Queen Mary University of London. He’s also one of the co-authors of the study “The evolution of popular music: USA 1960-2010.”