DYLAN JONES wrote a love letter to Eighties music in The Sun last week, hailing a decade he rates the most “innovative period of pop culture”.
He shared his thoughts ahead of his BBC2 documentary The 80s – Music’s Greatest Decade? With Dylan Jones, which airs tonight at 8.55pm. But what about the Sixties, Seventies and Nineties?
Three Sun writers argue passionately for the decade during which they feel the music was really the best ever recorded.
By Simon Cosyns
FROM the thrilling opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night to the momentous final chord of A Day In The Life, The Beatles epitomised the pioneering spirit of the Sixties.
Those iconic if fleeting moments helped unlock the infinite possibilities of popular music.
The first of those chords set a high bar for guitar bands over the decades to come. Did Queen or Nirvana or Oasis contrive a single note as memorable as George Harrison’s Rickenbacker-powered adrenaline rush?
The second chord, in E-major, came after a tumultuous orchestral crescendo.
Three Beatles, their producer and their assistant, using three pianos and a harmonium, simultaneously struck it to close the album widely regarded as the best ever, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
With that single grandiose gesture, they put the pomp into pop and charted the course to Bohemian Rhapsody. As John, Paul, George and Ringo flourished on a wave of Beatlemania, so too did the Swinging Sixties, the only decade since the Roaring Twenties to earn itself an adjective.
If Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry fired the starting gun in the Fifties, it was the big four British bands — The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Who and The Kinks — who picked up the baton and sprinted to pop glory like a gold medal-winning 4x100m Olympic relay team.
The Stones, with Mick Jagger their pouting, gyrating frontman, introduced sexiness and sleaze with (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction and inspired the decadent style of Bowie, Roxy Music, Prince and the rest.
The Who, with their stuttering, amphetamine-fuelled anthem My Generation, prefigured the blue-collar punk of The Clash and The Jam, particularly because of the immortal line: “I hope I die before I get old.”
The Kinks, with lyrical genius Ray Davies at the helm, wrote about the ordinary lives of ordinary people, bringing poetry, perception and pathos to Waterloo Sunset.
Over in America, Motown’s Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, The Supremes and The Temptations, soon followed by The Jackson 5, smashed racial barriers and scored hit after hit with their silky soul sound — among them The Tracks Of My Tears, You Keep Me Hangin’ On, My Girl and I Want You Back.
Groups like Boyz II Men, the Spice Girls, Take That, Girls Aloud and countless others have tried (and mostly failed) to emulate those acts from Berry Gordy’s Hitsville HQ in Detroit.
Motown, which also nurtured Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, received healthy competition from the Atlantic and Stax labels as powerhouse soul singers Aretha Franklin (Respect) and Otis Redding (The Dock Of The Bay) established themselves as all-time greats.
Then, of course, The Beach Boys, with Brian Wilson their chief creative force, delivered songs so sublime, like God Only Knows, Good Vibrations and Sloop John B, that God only knows how they did it.
This brings us to that other quintessential form of pop star, the singer-songwriter — and the one who stands above the rest, my lifelong obsession Bob Dylan. Hitting the ground running as the “voice of a generation” with protest songs such as A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall and The Times They Are A-Changin’, he famously went “electric” in 1965 and dumped earnest lyrics for the surreal imagery of his masterpiece, Like A Rolling Stone.
He influenced The Beatles to move away from girl-meets-boy pop songs to psychedelic flights of fancy like Strawberry Fields Forever and opened the path for Joni Mitchell, Simon & Garfunkel and Neil Young.
Let’s not forget that a new wave of British stars — David Bowie, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Cat Stevens, Marc Bolan (T. Rex), Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd — began their careers in the Sixties and were shaped by the decade.
And before I rest my case, here are a few more shoutouts . . .
TO Dusty Springfield, who blazed the trail for Amy Winehouse and Adele.
TO Jimi Hendrix for remaining the world’s greatest guitar god, 50 years after his death.
TO Elvis for his sensational, smouldering 1968 comeback special.
TO Andy Warhol’s muse, The Velvet Underground, for the New York scene that gave us The Ramones, Patti Smith Talking Heads and Blondie.
TO Woodstock, three chaotic days of “peace and music” that showed the way for Glastonbury and every other festival.
TO Iggy & The Stooges for revealing the most famous torso in rock. (But NOT to The Doors’ Jim Morrison for revealing something else on stage.)
TO Janis Joplin for the loudest female voice in a male-dominated music business.
TO The Byrds and Gram Parsons for making country music cool.
TO Tom Jones for Delilah, the best singalong at rugby and football grounds.
And finally, to borrow the opening line of A Day In The Life, I read the news today, oh boy . . . about the stars who made the greatest decade.
By Tony Parsons
IN the Seventies, the world was post-Pill and pre-Aids and the music was everywhere.
Young people had never been so free — and would never be this free again.
Sex & Drugs & Rock ’N’ Roll, a single by Ian Dury And The Blockheads, could not have appeared in any decade but the Seventies.
And the music had never sounded so good.
No decade comes even close to the Seventies. It was an embarrassment of riches — Hotel California and Anarchy In The UK and I Feel Love, the time of glam rock and punk rock and funk, the birth of disco and the rise and fall of punk, a great buffet of endless delights waiting for you to gorge on at the start of each new day.
It was the era of the LP, and giants did their greatest, career-defining work.
The Seventies saw the release of Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones, David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars, Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions, Led Zeppelin IV, Neil Young’s Harvest, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Joni Mitchell’s Blue, Every Picture Tells A Story by Rod Stewart, Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan’s classic divorce-album Blood On The Tracks.
But the Seventies was also the era of the 45 — the very essence of pop music, two or three minutes of unforgettable bliss.
What was No1 mattered — and everyone knew. Top Of The Pops was essential viewing.
Barry White and Bowie and Blondie, Ian Dury and Marc Bolan and the Bee Gees — they all had their shining moments in the Top Of The Pops sun, as well as one-hit wonders like Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street, with a saxophone solo to haunt you to the grave.
If you were young in the Seventies, then your first crush was almost certainly a member of Pan’s People, who twirled joyously on Top Of The Pops every Thursday night.
We first saw Agnetha Faltskog’s face when Abba won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974, Debbie Harry’s face when she did Heart Of Glass on Top Of The Pops in 1979 and Johnny Rotten’s face when he cussed at Bill Grundy on teatime ITV in 1976.
Music was what we had instead of the internet.
It consoled us, lifted our spirits, defined our lives, encouraged us to find our life’s path and was a constant, life-affirming soundtrack to hard times.
In many ways, the Seventies were rough.
We had no money. Frequently, we had no work.
But we always had the music. It was always there — in sweaty basements and clubs, pouring out of the radio, in the hours alone with just your vinyl in your bedroom — and it made you happy to be alive and glad to be young.
The Seventies was the greatest party in human history and everyone was invited.
By Gordon Smart
IMAGINE starting a decade when the world was finally waving goodbye to the threat of nuclear Armageddon.
The Soviet empire had collapsed, the Cold War was over . . . and to top it all off, apartheid was being dismantled in South Africa.
Back home, the “Lennon and McCartney of politics”, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, were putting the wheels in motion for this thing called New Labour in their dingy Westminster office. Nobody had even thought of the millennium bug, yet.
The unbridled optimism and swagger of Cool Britannia, Britpop and Girl Power was stirring. The future was looking SO bright.
My entire teenage years played out in the Nineties and the soundtrack made me feel like I could take on the world.
Speaking of soundtracks, Trainspotting deserves an honourable mention straight off the bat — Underworld’s Born Slippy is probably the song that sums up the entire decade best for me, and Primal Scream’s Screamadelica is the album.
Unbridled excitement and happiness. All the other decades in this debate are soured by misery. Not the Nineties.
There seemed to be something huge happening in every genre — pop, grunge, indie, electronic and house music.
I didn’t realise it at the time, but it was also the golden era of rap and hip-hop.
Pop fans had a lot to be happy about. New Kids On The Block brought in the Nineties, topping the UK singles chart in January 1991 with Hangin’ Tough. The American pop invasion had ignited an idea in the head of a young casting agent called Nigel Martin-Smith and, not long after, Take That were born. Looking back, that got pretty big, eh?
Divas in their pomp
I’ll never forget Smells Like Teen Spirit roaring out of the radio for the first time.
Nirvana felt like the first band who really mattered in a way bands had mattered in the Sixties and Seventies.
America served up a string of huge stadium acts — Pearl Jam were massive, R.E.M. ruled the world with Automatic For The People, Rage Against The Machine were pushing Parental Advisory warning stickers in a way the Sex Pistols would have loved.
On that note, hip-hop felt like the last new invention of American pop-culture and the Nineties was such a purple patch.
At the other end of the spectrum, pop divas were also in their pomp.
Whitney Houston was selling lorry-loads of singles thanks to her box-office hit The Bodyguard, with Kevin Costner.
Mariah Carey emerged, taking “diva” to a level the Eighties could only have dreamed of, and Celine Dion wasn’t far behind.
I’ve got this far without banging on about Britpop. The tribal nature of Oasis v Blur, the North v the South, working class v middle class or however it played out for you.
It was the Nineties answer to The Beatles v the Stones.
In the midst of that madness, Radiohead were cracking America, The Verve were delivering the goods and Pulp gave us Jarvis Cocker and a nod towards the year 2000.
Not to mention The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim — there was just so much to feast on.
It wasn’t all lads, lads, lads.
Girl Power burst into existence with the Spice Girls and they have earned the final words on the decade. Nothing sums it up better than . . . ZIG-A-ZIG-AH!