Sunday, April 6, 2014

How diverse is your personal playlist?

I don’t know about you, but to me it seems that the popular music of the 1960s was the most diverse of any decade. So many different genres were represented on the Billboard Hot 100; rock and roll, rockabilly, jazz, soul, blues, R&B, “Standards”, British Invasion, Merseybeat, Folk, Skiffle and even country artists had their heyday on the charts.

Left: The Quarrymen! Huh, “what is skiffle, we never had anything called skiffle” you say. Well consider these examples of skiffle music, "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" by Rolf Harris and "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour (On The Bedpost Over Night)", by Lonnie Donegan who was Britain's most successful and influential recording artist before The Beatles. Still not convinced, there is this little tidbit. Liverpool skiffle group The Quarrymen performed their first full show in 1957 with John Lennon. Yes, The Beatles evolved from John Lennon's skiffle group The Quarrymen. Yup, skiffle was part of the music scene too.

So the sixties music scene began with Elvis returning after a two year stint in the army with "It's Now or Never" and "Are You Lonesome Tonight?", Chubby Checker doing “The Twist” and Motown Record’s first Top Ten hit "Shop Around" by the Miracles in 1960. I’m not forgetting Barrett Strong’s “Money (That's What I Want)", which reached No. 2 on the U.S. R&B chart earlier that year. That single was released on Tamla Records, Motown's first label, but was then leased to the Anna label as it was getting airplay, and it was on Anna label that it was a hit. Just think of the artists of the 60s; Elvis, The Beatles, The Four Seasons, Lesley Gore, The Marvelettes, The Supremes, The Kinks, John Coltrane, Bob Dylan, Peter Paul and Mary, Cilla Black, The Byrds, The Seekers, Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, The Velvet Underground, Procol Harem, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, The Moody Blues, Otis Redding, The Bee Gees, Johnny Cash, Big Brother and the Holding Company with their iconic lead singer Janis Joplin, Simon and Garfunkel, Sly and the Family Stone, The Temptations, The Four Tops and The Rolling Stones just to name a few. I could go on for paragraphs but this list makes my point. All of these artists were played on one station, the top 40 station back in the day. Today, this would never happen, the variance is too big, they would be played on at least 4 or 5 different stations focused on narrow styles of music. Each of these stations has its narrow following and I think that is kind of sad. Unless individual audience members push the button on other stations on the band, the radio listener of today is missing the rich diversity of musical talent that is out there.

Left: Alison Krauss Here is another interesting tidbit. Which female artist is the most awarded singer and the most awarded female artist in Grammy history? I’ll give you some hints. As of 2012, she has won 28 Grammy Awards from 41 nominations, making her the most awarded living recipient, second only to the late classical conductor Sir Georg Solti who holds the record for most wins of all time. She even has more Grammys than Aretha! The answer is Alison Krauss! I am still astounded when I ask that question how few know who Alison is and how most of them don’t know that Alison leads the pack in Grammy awards. Most people think that Alison is a “one hit wonder” with her song “When You Say Nothing At All” which rose to number 3 on the country charts in 1995. If you are a country music fan, you know Alison, if not you probably don’t.

Because of the rich diversity of the top 40 charts back in the day we were exposed to a much wider diversity of cultures and musical styles than today. You may remember that the charts of the late 1990s and early 2000s were dominated with Hip Hop and Rap, leaving little room for anything else. The local airwaves were glutted with these two narrowly defined genres. There was an article posted recently in a major publication, whose name is currently locked up in a senior moment as I am writing this, that was complaining that there was not a single song performed by an African American in the number one position on the chart for the past year. The “Wheel in the Sky keeps on turnin’” My apologies the 70s band, “Journey” that was just too good to pass up.

So, in my hometown radio market, there are now 4 sports stations, 3 talk stations, 3 country stations, 2 Urban Stations. But there are no Oldies Station, No Blues Station, No classic Soul (Northern or Southern) Station, No R&B Station, No Classical, and as of late, No Classic Rock Station. There is one station that plays hits from multiple genres, but it is a jukebox with no live DJs, the other element of top 40 that is fading away. I am told this is because of something called “relevance,” which is sought after by all the highly paid corporate consultants. If not being “relevant” is what I am then I am fine with that! I’ll continue doing my oldies show, the last one on the air in my town. I’ll continue to do it “old school” style, and I’ll continue to take requests until the cows come home. My audience and I will continue to enjoy the diversity that was rock and roll in my day. It’s only two or three hours on Monday mornings, depending on the time of year, but it is our time. Good times. Oh MY!

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