What’s Old Is New

There will never be another era in musical history which compares with the second half of the 20th century. Each decade from the 1940s through the 1980s produced its own unique sounds and styles. You can usually tell in which decade a song was recorded by its sound. Nearly everything since the 1990s is a restatement of styles introduced in the half-century between 1940 and 1990.

One reason for listening to music from past decades is to learn what unprocessed music sounds like. Many young people have been raised on music that ’s highly overproduced. The raw, unproduced sounds of the 60s and 70s put off many young listeners. It’s true that a lot of substandard production work came out of this era.

Recording technologies were primitive, and engineers chased passing fads in recording and stereo technology, like quadrophonic 8-tracks and “low-compression” mastering. Some of the poor recording quality of that era was just human error. Fortunately, many of the recordings from that era have been remastered so they sound at least a little better than the original mixes, in some cases a lot better. Most people’s musical tastes are tied to a musical time frame.

Aside from production values, what’s the difference between old music and new music, from a listener’s perspective? In a way, “new music” is any music you haven’t heard before. If you don’t know the Beatles, then it’s all news to you.

Old songs are being re-recorded all the time. That’s why you should know your history. One time a student told me about a “new song” by the a cappella group Pentatonix calledThe Sounds of Silence.” I played him a couple of numbers from The Graduate soundtrack.

I like shows like NBC’s The Voice because they introduce young people to important songs from the 60s and 70s. There aren’t many shows in prime time that give their audiences credit for having intelligence and taste. The Voice is a show that spans generations, where the young can learn a little about music from before their time.

© 2019, 2020 Greg Varhaug