For as long as I’ve actively listened to music, I’ve been intrigued by the concept of music that sounds “dated.” People clearly have differing definitions of what “dated” means, or whether or not dated music sounds good, but that there is music out there that is dated cannot be disputed. To me, music is dated when you can listen to it without knowing the song or the artist, but still tell that it did not come from the current decade (or in some cases, you can tell it didn’t come from the current year).
Some music has aged better than others. While I recognize that some people are going to be better than others at saying “this is definitely old music,” I think that if you suspend knowledge of music history, the 60’s aged really well. Of course, in the modern day, we’ve got a lot of artists who purposely sound like 60’s groups, and that’s probably made the sound more “normal.” Listen to Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin, and tell me you don’t think you could hear some White Stripes/Killers/Franz Ferdinand kind of band playing this music. Compare that to the ridiculous drumming and digital effects of a more unfortunate decade. Hopefully you can recognize that timelessness in music varies.
I started with rock, but I actually believe hip-hop has evolved the most radically over time. It’s almost impossible to mistake early hip-hop songs for modern hip-hop. Here’s something from the 80’s, the end of the 80’s (side note: I feel that De La Soul do have a certain timelessness about them, despite the intent of this reference), the 90’s, and by the time we hit the 00’s, we’ve pretty much caught up to ourselves in terms of sound. I think the big difference in mainstream hip-hop over time is that they started to take themselves a lot more seriously as the spread of the genre grew. I don’t mean more seriously musically, but rather that the way they represented themselves was more serious, and it came across that way in their overall sound.
Still, there has been a lot of change in every genre, through today. That brings me to the other thing I’m curious about. In the past 20 years, we’ve undergone a revolution in communications due to the internet. I don’t know if the history books refer to it as a revolution, yet, but they will. Putting aside outdated recording technology, or growing pains of emergent music, I think the real reason that old music sounds old is because it was the product of a society that did not have the global exposure we currently have.
Even the most annoying kid we all know, who listens only to bad pop music with no effort, has heard more music, and more types of music than a lot of people who were TRYING to listen to music in the past, not to mention the artists actually making the music. The overload of information we’re processing today has resulted in all kinds of creative fusions of past genres, and inventions of new ones. That just wouldn’t have been possible in the past – they didn’t even know what they were missing.
There is a dilemma, however: there is a limit to our global communication network; once we have everybody connected, there is no one else to connect. I wonder what this means for music. Surely progress will never stop, but at some point, there won’t be some new pairing of one obscure middle-eastern genre with some obscure japanese style, because they won’t be obscure any more. At some point pretty soon, we’re all going to know what that music sounds like, and we’re going to know what meshes of that music sound like.
I’m curious what people will do then, to combat what is surely going to become a dull musical landscape. When we’ve all heard everything the world has to offer, what will we do to make it fresh again?