Sep 092011

Back in the listserv days of Rock Town Hall, a Townsman once asked us to consider the best decade in American music.

I’d love to get an update on this, and to hear from some of the folks who have joined since then, such as tonyola, ladymisskirroyale, and the members of the Beantown Rock Mafia. I’m not sure if the Townsman who originally posted this is still an active participant, so I suggest that we forego giving points for the strength of the argument. [Mod – It wasn’t Al? It was mwall.] Perhaps the Mod could create a corresponding poll. [Mod – Why of course!]

The original post is as follows:

What’s the best 20th century decade in American music? Not just in rock and roll, but ALL of American music.

Decades score one point for being picked, and one point if your argument for the decade seems convincing. No argument may be more than two paragraphs long.

Here are the pre-race odds:


  • 1950s: 3-1
  • 1920s: 5-1
  • 1960s: 6-1

Dark Horses with a significant shot

  • 1940s: 12-1
  • 1970s: 15-1
  • 1930s: 20-1

Prove-it-if-you-can Longshots

  • 1980s: 30-1
  • 1990s: 40-1
  • 1910s: 50-1
  • 1900s: 99-1

And they’re off, ladies and gentlemen!

What's the best 20th century decade in American music? Not just in rock and roll, but ALL of American music.

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  141 Responses to “Once and for All: What’s the Best 20th Century Decade in American Music?”

  1. This one’s a no-brainer for ignorant, rock ‘n roll-centric me: the 1960s. It’s got my favorite and best rock ‘n roll. It’s got my favorite and best soul. It’s got my favorite (although probably not most jazz fans’ idea of best) jazz. It’s even got most of the only country music that’s ever interested me.

  2. 1960s definitely has the best rock/pop. From the girl groups and the Beach Boys on one end, through the British Invasion to Jimi Hendrix on the other side. Jazz was also great in the 1960s, though I’d say the 1950s were better for jazz. FWIW, the 1960s is no. 1 for country in my book, with Merle, George, Johnny, and Buck leading the way.

    So I voted 1960s.

  3. saturnismine

    Even from a non rock centric point of view, it’s kind of hard to beat the 60s.

  4. Given that it’s American music, I assume obviously enough that the following groups don’t count, among others: The Beatles, Stones, The Who, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, Cream, Led Zeppelin.

  5. Tremendous point, mwall. I honestly made the mistake of forgetting to exclude my British Invasion favorites. I’ll have to rethink this a bit: the soul, jazz, and country greats from the ’60s remain untouched. American rock ‘n roll is still pretty great, led by Dylan, CCR, the Beach Boys, and all those blue-eyed soul/garage/one-hit wonder types. The loss of the Brits does close the gap between the ’60s and the other 20th century decades.

  6. saturnismine

    Are we allowed to talk of each of these decades in terms of the phenomena that impacted music-making as well as the music itself?

    If so, I submit that while we can’t talk about British music as if it qualifies, the British Invasion itself was a monumentally pleasurable part of the American music experience of that decade, one that was culturally impactful, and thus contributes to our consideration of that decade.

  7. I picked the 1960s though if I could set my own decade limits, I’d pick 1963 to 1973. The period from 1960-1962 was still pretty much late ’50s in terms of musical style. By 1963, you had the rise of Motown, Beach Boys, folk rock, Four Seasons, Phil Spector, Stax/Volt, and so on. The changes would just keep accelerating in the following years.

  8. misterioso

    tony, I read this quickly, and maybe you were just slipping them in to see if we’re paying attention, but: the Four Seasons?

  9. shawnkilroy

    The 70s are the best for American music.
    The Stooges
    The Ramones
    Earth Wind & Fire
    Donna Summer
    Boz Scaggs
    Chuck Mangione
    Boy I sure like a lot of English music.

  10. Of course, Rock Town is also a rock and roll fan list. So far, other than rock, people have mentioned four country bands and jazz as a general thing. Soul has appeared as a general thing, although white soul has been mentioned more specifically. In other words, no one yet has shown any serious attempt to reckon with the question other than as a question about the best decade of American rock and roll. Which wasn’t the question.

    So far, people unmentioned include Armstrong, Ellington, Basie, Young, Fitzgerald, Parker, Holiday, Rodgers, Williams, Presley, just to name a few, as opposed to the justifiably essential Mr. Scaggs.

    George Jones made much of his best music in the 50s, by the way.

  11. Since any music played in America could, under this definition, potentially be included, I think we should remember the profound effect that Indian music had on the Beatles as an essential part of what makes American music great.

  12. ladymisskirroyale

    Oh dear, I’m getting to this post now after a long day and with less-than-optimal number of brain cells functioning.

    My first thoughts:
    1. Best for AMERICAN music would be the 60’s.
    2. But best for “rock” music in general – I would have to go with the 80’s (gasp). So many styles of music (punk, post-punk, New Wave, No Wave, ska, rockabilly, blue-eyed soul), the increasing use of synthesizers and electronica, a greater inclusion of world music/interesting time signatures (Burundi), the rise of independent labels.
    3. If I had to chose a favorite decade of “rock” it would be 1985-1995.

  13. Yes, the Four Seasons. They had a lot of classic songs from the period 1962 to 1966 and both the Beatles and the Stones pointed to them as a big influence.

  14. Chuck Mangione and not Parliament/Funkadelic? Bleagh.

  15. For each of those admittedly great acts that you list, there were hundreds of mediocrities who were dominating the charts and popular taste – just like in any decade. Other than Elvis, none of the these greats caused a seismic shift in popular culture (or at least the shift was unappreciated in their time). I personally chose the 1960s because that decade represented the most radical change in the way music was played and perceived.

  16. BigSteve

    I don’t know, the invention of jazz and its infiltration into popular music and culture, the introduction of recorded music and radio as ways of disseminating music — these are pretty radical changes in the music was played and perceived. We just weren’t around to experience them.

  17. Jazz did have a huge impact on music but it took decades for it to become mainstream. Radio and records had a profound impact on how we listened to music, but they didn’t really change the music itself – at least nothing like the hurricane winds of change that so altered music in the 1960s.

  18. BigSteve

    I don’t think that’s accurate jazz history. And you’re claiming that there were these huge changes in music in the 60s without saying what they were or describing how they were more significant than the changes in the 20s and 30s.

    In any case the question is ‘best’ not ‘most radical.’

  19. The Stooges were toast by the early ’70s, unless you prefer Raw Power to their first two albums, which were ’60s releases. But that’s beside the point: you’ve included Chuck Mangione on your list! 🙂

  20. The Four Seasons were pretty excellent. I support tonyola and would be able to make a case for them being much better than a lot of bands rock critics and fans today rank higher. And yes, my case would be completely objective.

  21. I was trying to be concise and broad in my initial comments, mwall, as I suspect others were. If need be I’ll drill down to the details on American classical composers from my selected decade.

  22. machinery

    I’d agree with Lady Miss, with a little shifting of the dates. Although I agree the 60s was the wellspring, except for the Nuggets, I don’t find me scrolling to a lot of 60s band on my ipod. (scrollling??)

    As for my fav decade: 1977-1987.

  23. bostonhistorian

    Right now I’m leaning towards the 1950s. The post WWII economic boom helped a wide variety of music to flourish. Classic Broadway musicals like The Music Man are written, we see the rise of Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis recording “Kind of Blue”, jazz moving into trios/quartets/quintets and the rise of Blue Note Records, the last hurrah for jump blues with Louis Jordan and Big Joe Turner. Personal favorites of mine include Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, the resurgence of the Basie band, Buddy Holly, rockabilly, Ray Charles and the beginnings of Atlantic Records, and John Cage creating music which reflects changes in American art. It’s the decade where the tastes of young people really start to split between rock and roll and jazz and the decade when radio comes into its own as a force in shaping popular tastes. It’s the first decade of 20th century popular music which feels “modern” to me.

  24. tonyola

    I wasn’t trying to provide a history of jazz in one sentence, so your fussing about accuracy is immaterial. Jazz was first seen around 1900 or so as ragtime and Dixieland/New Orleans. Even in the 1920s, it was still not thought of as “respectable” in many parts of society. Jazz didn’t become truly mainstream until the 1930s and 1940s with the advent of swing. Bebop and modern jazz came along in the 1940s. Jazz didn’t explode onto the scene in a few years like Elvis and rock and roll. That’s accurate enough.

    As for the 1960s, I listed several forces that came along by 1963 alone in another post on this topic. It shouldn’t be hard to figure out what came thereafter, but it would take too long of a post to discuss them all. There have already been tons written about the topic anyway.

    I still think the 1960s is the greatest decade of American music.

  25. That’s a really good argument, bostonhistorian. The inclusion of musicals, our friend machinery’s favorite genre, really does raise the quality of the ’40 and ’50s.

  26. machinery


  27. bostonhistorian

    I forgot to mention the film score work of people like Bernard Herrmann, who did amazing work for Alfred Hitchcock in the late 1950s.

  28. I voted for the ’60 without noting the “American” part. As such, it was a no-brainer.

    But bostonhistorian gives me pause. Add to his list of ’50s highpoints, Sinatra’s redefinition of the Great American Popular Songbook and it’s a pretty compelling case.

    As for mwall’s comments on the narrowness of the ’60s citations, let me specifically add an area which brings up that dreaded “p” word to RTH. The ’60s were a great time for pop music in the sense that so much of what was popular was also great, across many genres. With talent like Bacharach-David, Jimmy Webb, Laura Nyro, Herb Alpert, and too many others to list, popular music was more expansive than it’s ever been since.

    (btw, cdm, it wasn’t me that had this thread way back when. I had something similar but even this actuary never had a points and odds system.)

  29. mockcarr

    That’s pretty solid I can see why it’s 3-1. I could add Sinatra’s best stuff with Billy May and Nelson Riddle’s bands, the Dave Brubeck Quartet and west coast jazz. Doo-wop and close-harmony vocal groups. Bernstein, Belefonte, Guthrie as big influeneces. Mass produced stereo albums happen. Of course, the other name you might use for rock and roll according to John Lennon “Chuck Berry” has a slew of great singles. Tough to beat. I’m left eliminating a lot of my favorites who are not American in later decades.

  30. I’m just trying to make sure people consider the whole breadth of the question, Mod. Classical composers are certainly relevant as well.

  31. In addition to the obvious cultural revolution that took place in the 60’s, some of the more significant

    – Emergence of radio and phonograph
    – Bing Crosby becomes one of the first singers to realize how to best use the microphone to incorporate dynamic range into recordings
    – Louis Armstrong more or less invents swing

    – Elvis fuses R&B with Country to invent rock and roll/makes black music safe for white kids to listen to/unlocks the huge commercial potential of rock and roll
    – Blues, Jazz and Country enjoy their heyday (in my opinion)

    – The decade when the combination of creative ambition and technology peaked.

    But the question originally asked was for the “best” decade and I probably have to agree with shawkilroy that it’s the 70’s for me. I love the first generation punk, hard rock, A.M. pop crap, some of the disco, a lot of the AOR stuff and Exile on Main Street. And both the Stooges and the MC5 released their second albums in 1970.

    While the 80’s would probably be my 5th or 6th choice, I think they get a much worse rap than they deserve.

    Finally, people, please stop making up your own decades.

  32. I agree, mwall. I truly appreciated your reminder that we keep it American. I was teasing about that classical part of the equation. By all means it’s relevant. I know so little about classical music that I at least could cite Terry Riley’s In C, which I think it from 1969, as further support for my vote for the 1960s. I’ll say, though, if my tastes in jazz and all that pre-rock big band singer music were more developed I might have to rethink my vote. Most of that “Great American Songbook” stuff that Rod Stewart’s been pissing over is from the 1930s-1950s, right? Then there’s all the legendary blues, other rural musics (eg, bluegrass?), and early rock ‘n roll that developed in the late ’40s/early ’50s. So, yes, my ability to judge is hampered by my lack of appreciation for acknowledged masters of various genres, like Charlie Parker and the style of jazz he led (bebop, right?).

  33. Mod,
    Wallace came up with this thread on the listserv.

  34. With about 30 seconds of forethought, I might add. I didn’t stay up for weeks working out those odds.

  35. saturnismine


  36. saturnismine

    Funhouse was recorded in 1970 and released in 1970.

    I think of the Stooges as a 70s band, especially when you consider that the first album wasn’t released until August of ’69 and the band didn’t really gain any steam until they released Funhouse (the first album peaked at 106).

  37. Parker and Dizzy Gillespie are usually credited with the invention of bebop, yes, although the term probably came from the 20s, a decade which also saw the flourishing of the recording of jazz, blues (urban and rural), and various hillbilly musics that would later coalesce as country. Bessie Smith, Armstrong, Jimmie Rodgers, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Mississippi John Hurt are only some of the most essential names from the 20s. I don’t know enough about show tunes and composing from that decade. The 30s featured the rise of the (sometimes American) modern/experimental classical music.

  38. 2000 Man

    Rock N Roll wasn’t considered “respectable” for at least twenty years, if not more. Are you saying if the music isn’t mainstream then it can’t be comsidered “best?”

  39. 2000 Man

    I’m going 70’s, too. If only because I know almost nothing about music other than Rock, for the most part (and I don’t care anymore – I tried, I don’t care for it much and don’t need to be saved), and in the 70’s Rock dominated like no other music before or since. That’s good enough for me.

  40. It’s also possible to consider the 60s as the beginning of the decline of American music, as American musical styles are more and more taken up in other countries, in many cases more effectively than in the home country. How many of the greatest American musicians played their greatest music in the 60s? Some (Coltrane) certainly.

    On the other hand, the 60s does indeed see a huge proliferation of American music into more and more styles.

    I think, by the way, that Canadians (The Band, Neil Young) and Mexican musicians should also not be considered, although I understand that saying “American” rather than “U.S.” makes that issue fuzzier.

  41. Exile on Main Street: Not American.

  42. I like the handicapping that you came up with. And I can’t believe I couldn’t figure out you were mwall.

  43. 2000 Man

    It’s about America, sort of. Be careful. You’re treading on thin ice!

  44. DUH! The song “1970” should have tipped me off! Well, the album – one of my all-time faves – has a ’60s sound.

  45. Yes, we need to rule out other North Americans and keep this to Yanks alone. I say we even rule out pre-US statehood works by musicians from Hawaii and Alaska.

  46. BigSteve

    I was going to make the same argument about respectability, but 2k beat me to it.

    I see now that your idea about jazz taking decades to make an impact is based on the idea that it started around 1900. The problem with that is that no one knows what Buddy Bolden sounded like, because he was never recorded. I would say that what we call jazz isn’t much older than the first jazz recordings in the late teens. And then you’ve got to think that there’s a reason why the 20s are called The Jazz Age. It’s also the decade of Bessie Smith’s heyday and when blues first became a popular force.

    This is actually the problem with considering these early decades for this exercise. It’s not till the 20s that recorded music is a reliable indicator of what music was like at the time. So we can’t really judge the 00s and 10s properly.

  47. Nothing personal, but this response strikes me as a cop-out. To say “The best decade in American music” = “The best decade in rock (not even just American?)” because “I don’t care about anything other than rock” doesn’t hold that much water (even with the “rock dominated” generality attached.

    You have a right to your opinion, obviously, but I think a more honest answer here would be, “Screw this stupid question. I don’t intend to answer it. Let’s get back to talking about rock and roll only.”

  48. Agreed, but man, this is going to blow somebody’s Eskimo music response right out of the water.

  49. Steve, I agree that we can’t judge the first three decades of the century properly, although since it’s the 20th century in question, I think they had to be included.

    I think there’s a lot of an argument to be made for the 20s, since what we do have is so crucial to everything that comes next, but you’re right that ultimately the recorded legacy is less than it should be even for that first undeniably great decade.

  50. Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I would not put The Four Seasons in my top 100 60’s bands. They do nothing for me at all.

  51. BigSteve

    You could even make the argument that rock’s dominance in the 60s and 70s was bad for American music in general. For various reasons, rock drove other kinds of music into decline.

  52. Boy, you have suggested such a nerdy topic – requesting Townspeople’s list of Top 100 Bands from the 1960s, that I’m tempted to save it for a rainy day – another rainy day, not this one:)

  53. saturnismine

    I think of Nuggets songs as having a 60s sound. The Stooges sound much more 70s to me. But it’s all debatable, I suppose. I think of Zep i and Zep ii as being two of the most 70s sounding albums ever, but they were both recorded / released in the 60s while people like Janis Joplin were still making records that sounded VERY 60s.

    And isn’t the Band’s “Brown Album” vintage 69? It sounds very 70s to me.

    The Stones were sounding very 70s as early as Beggars Banquet.

    But you’re right about one thing: all of this is beside the point of Kilroy’s inclusion of Chuck Mangione on a last of bands that support his contention that the 70s were the best decade.


  54. First off, it only took rock and roll around 10 years to become “respectable”. Around 1965, MOR artists began covering Beatle tunes and critics were no longer dismissing rock as merely teenage music. By 1970, rock music was becoming the new MOR. So that’s maybe 15 years on the outside. Nowhere did I say or imply that mainstream equals best.
    Second, jazz was a radical change but it was slow to evolve compared to rock. Third, while recordings of pre-1920 jazz might be scarce, enough was written down as sheet music so at least we have an idea of what the songs were about.

    That’s enough pedantry on all sides for a day.

  55. I know the 1920s are considered the “jazz age” but I wonder if that tag is overstated due to the romantic image we have of speakeasies, flappers, gangsters, and bootleggers. It’s like the classical music era which some elitists point to as the argument for the decadence of popular music. How many people prior to, say, 1850 actually got to hear a symphony? I’d say very few – what we call classical music today was reserved for the elite. The pop music of the time was mostly drinking songs, minstrel tunes, sea chanteys, hymns, and romantic ballads.

  56. 1963-1973 once again. Nyah. Tpppth.

  57. Me too, Jungleland. In fact, I’ll take it a step further and say that they are near the top of my list of least favorite bands of all time.

  58. I didn’t put the Four Seasons on the list of 1963 musical factors because I liked or disliked them. I included them because for a few years they were a major American group that many subsequent acts cited as a favorite. I don’t like Dylan, but it would be silly and petty of me to deny that he had a huge impact on 1960s music.

  59. Actually though, the 20s isn’t that poorly documented on record, and blues and other country musics were common in towns all over the south and elsewhere, and the range of jazz bands was pretty wide too. Sure, it’s called the jazz age because jazz became famous then, but it’s hardly like there’s no recorded music from that era. Counting jazz, blues, and folk/country material, I probably have around 75-100 records/CDs of 20s American music, and most of it is neither expensive nor hard to find.

  60. BigSteve

    Pre-20s jazz was written down as sheet music? Uh yeah ok. That is enough of that kind of ‘pedantry.’

  61. mockcarr

    As much as I would like to make a case for the 20s, I think it ends up sounding like “most important” rather than best. Titans like Berlin, Gershwin, and Armstrong and the durable recording of blues, jazz, folk, etc. Radio and the phonograph are in actual people’s homes. Prohibition creates an outlawed, but acceptable alternative culture against the temperate, boring music of a European past that died at Versailles. A kid could sneak a song into the house that mom and dad wouldn’t know about. There was the height of vaudeville bringing a bunch of styles to town, or Broadway musicals to the big cities, and by the end of the decade – talkies that sang an awful lot. But I guess there are still enough jarring, corny, and hokey elements in what I hear then, that American songwriting was still working it’s way into the confluence of factors that seems to work best for me personally in the 1950s in the US.

  62. That strikes me as a very reasonable argument, mock. The 20s is where most of the basic pieces of the framework of what will be 20th American music fall into place, but it’s certainly not the full fruition of them.

    It’s hard for me to reconstruct my thinking on a subject that I only took a few minutes to put together some years ago, but part of the reason I think I put the 60s as 6-1 was that I assumed that most everybody else would pick that decade. I wanted to jab a little against that likely (and sometimes likely knee-jerk) response.

    Knowing now what I know about Rocktown, I would have put it as perhaps the 3-2 prohibitive favorite, which would have tempted more people to knock it from the top spot. But putting it at 6-1 only makes more people want to defend it.

  63. Put me down for the ’50s as well. Pop, country, blues, rock ‘n’ roll, classical, folk, jazz, R&B and Broadway are all still developing in new and interesting ways in the U.S., and co-existing to a relative degree. The ’60s do come close, I must admit, but the Brits dominate rock so much there. I have a soft spot for the ’70s, with its glut of weirdo auteurs who managed to get major-label contracts, but there are all sorts of problematic things like the Osmonds and soft-fusion. (Sorry, Chuck.)

  64. I’m gonna go 70’s even though I listened to lots of music from the UK as well.

    Bruce Springsteen
    Tom Petty
    Van Halen
    ZZ Top
    Alice Cooper
    Frank Zappa (I actually dont like his 60’s output much)
    Talking Heads
    Big Star

    This is the stuff that I come back to as far as American acts – more than the 60’s, where I am 90% about bands from the UK (CCR and Byrds are the exception to the rule)

  65. misterioso

    Well, they had a lot of hits. It may even be true that the Beatles and Stones “pointed to them as a big influence.” I doubt much a case can be built for their having a meaningful effect on either band, though, and more to the point–since I am always wary of the “influence = greatness” argument–whatever their influence may have been, they are simply not terribly interesting or good.

  66. misterioso

    And Chuck Mangione, obviously.

  67. I don’t care about their supposed influence. I honestly like the music of the Four Seasons. They’ve got a lot of punch. They take some unexpected approaches to their arrangements. They often express a really weird point of view that I find interesting. They’ve got possibly the best drum fills on their fadeouts. I don’t know if it’s Hal Blaine or not playing those fadeout fills, but they’re magic. To me they’re like the East Coast, Italian-American, white boy equivalent of the early Beach Boys.

  68. misterioso

    Mod, while I think you are, well, a little crazy, I am glad to hear an argument based on the quality of their music rather than on some straining after importance via quasi-influence. I’m not really out to knock the Four Seasons, I don’t mind a few of their hits, as long as the dosage is really small I don’t think they cause serious damage.

  69. misterioso

    As much as it is tempting to not choose the 60s, the 60s it is. I was on the fence, but it was the Four Seasons that put the 60s over the top. No, not really. But in terms of rock and roll + jazz, two of the three main “types” of music I listen to (and with rock and roll for this discussion encompassing various genres such as soul that probably deserve to be viewed separately), the 60s carries the day. The third, classical, does not enter into it as I have no interest in modern classical music. For jazz alone it might well be the 50s, but there is still tremendous jazz produced in the 60s–the last phases of “acoustic” Miles, Coltrane’s greatest recordings, Jackie McLean’s Blue Note records, fantastic stuff from people who started in the 50s like Blakey, Silver, Mobley, Byrd, Burrell–one could go on and on. Jazz for me pretty much ends in the late 60s though. (I mean, except for Chuck Mangione.) I love 30s and 40s jazz, swing, bop, and so on but in the 50s and 60s I feel it reached its pinnacle. The absence of Brits from the 60s is a real issue here but for me, certainly, Dylan alone almost is sufficient and many of the other acts that have been mentioned I would also point to.

    I think a really interesting case can be built for the 30s with the flowering of jazz and swing a huge amount of great pre-war blues records, but I will leave that for another time.

  70. “Don’t cause any damage?” Jeez Misterioso, and to think I was just about to give you a cyber high five for joining me in my crusade against shrillness and screeching in pop.

  71. misterioso

    Yeah, true: I was just asking myself, “Did I really just speak up for the ‘East Coast, Italian-American, white boy equivalent of the early Beach Boys'”? But I can live with hearing “Walk Like a Man” once in a while. The thought of listening to, like, a whole 4 Seasons record is basically unthinkable, though. I also remembered how much I hate their version (as The Wonder Who) of Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright. Awwwwful! Mod, defends this!

  72. Aerosmith has now been mentioned twice as an example of what makes the 70s the best decade of the century for American music. I like Aerosmith just fine, but I submit the fact of its double mention as proof that not all of us may be considering a big enough picture.

  73. misterioso

    Another thread, another time: but while I like Funhouse a lot, for my money Raw Power basically kicks the ass of everything else they did. In fact, it kicks the else of almost everything else, period.

  74. This is a good and broad argument for the value of the 60s, although speaking for myself, the Blue Note era is something of a decline of jazz into an overly standardized sound. Too many of the Blue Note bands came out with too many similar-sounding records (though don’t doubt for a second that I love that sound). Coltrane, Dolphy, second-period Coleman, Cecil Taylor would make the argument more effective for me.

    I really wish you had made a case for the 30s. That would have been fun.

    I voted for the 50s, but in terms of the 60s, it would seem to me that Motown (although it’s not my thing), some of the Phil Spector bands, and James Brown may be the groups that would really enable the 60s to win. They’re the bands with something new to show for the decade.

    I think white American rock bands of the 60s come close to being a second rate lot. Dylan is great, obviously. Velvet Underground. CCR may be great, or close. There are a few other undeniably good and original bands too that have their own smaller legends (say The Byrds), but we quickly get into one hit wonders or okay white pop and soul bands that are doing okay versions of tunes done better elsewhere.

  75. Should have mentioned The Beach Boys also. Great? Not quite?

  76. misterioso

    Yes, James Brown is huge!

    I understand your point about Blue Note and at a certain point–we may not necessarily agree on that point–I think you are right about it’s becoming “overly standardized.” For me, up to at least 65 or 66 there is still tremendous output–the aforementioned McLean records, Tina Brooks, Silver’s records at least up to Song for My Father, Grant Green’s early records, Mobley, Lee Morgan, Herbie Hancock….I don’t need to belabor the point.

  77. tonyola

    The Doors
    Jimi Hendrix
    Buffalo Springfield
    The Byrds
    Jefferson Airplane
    Grateful Dead

    Not exactly bush league.

  78. Hendrix: undeniably great.

    The others: some are good, but all have serious deficiencies, even though I’m personally partial to several of them.

  79. Funhouse vs Raw Power is one of those all-time Rock Town Hall threads. We could run it every year and get folks riled up. We’ll have to do so once more…

  80. With all due respect to you, that’s crazy talk! I know, I know, it’s all about taste, but man, the best of the Beach Boys (and I’d say they earned their Hall of Fame status pre-Pet Sounds, which I also think is great, but it’s kind of like Brett Favre’s final magic season with the Vikings a couple of years ago) is special: “California Girls,” “I Get Around” (my fave), “Don’t Worry Baby,” “Help Me Rhonda”…and then they had great nerdy tracks like “Girl Don’t Tell Me.” I guess if that music doesn’t appeal to you, the way some really great artists’ music doesn’t appeal to me, it could be really annoying, but I think “statistically” (and I’m not meaning on a commercial level) they should make an airtight case for their greatness. To extend my sports metaphors, maybe they’re like how I feel about Dan Marino. I never thought he was half as great as he was made out to be – I thought he was a softie and all that – but his stats are wicked.

  81. The Airplane was more of a weed than a bush.

  82. bostonhistorian

    Thanks for adding to the list mockcarr. I was rushing to get out the door this morning and knew I was neglecting a lot of high points. In addition, someone makes the point about the 1950s being a high point of the blues. The 1950s really seem like a decade where almost anything is possible in American music, fueled by coast to coast distribution, radio, television, and consumers with money to spend. By the 1960s youth culture and rock and roll have mostly triumphed, to the detriment of other forms of music, especially jazz.

  83. tonyola

    Yes, great for a few years at least. From 1964 to 1966, there was no better American popmeister than Brian Wilson. Not only did he write terrific songs, but his vocal and instrumental arrangements were often sublime. Harmonizing? No group did it better. Until he fell apart, there was nobody who could touch Brian in sheer popcraft. The Beatles had the benefit of a skilled producer in George Martin – Wilson did it all pretty much himself.

  84. tonyola

    Listen to “Rag Doll”. That one song alone embodies the greatness and skill of the Four Seasons. By the way, they wrote or at least co-wrote most of their best material.

  85. tonyola

    Shrillness and screeching, huh? Tell me, what do you think about AC/DC?

  86. BigSteve

    Yeah I’m a little surprised by the 4Seasonphobia. Actually, given some similar negativity about the Beach Boys, I’m sensing that it’s mostly falsettophobia. More recent falsetto singing comes to us by way of Neil Young, all whispery and fragile. I guess if you’re not used to it the Frankie Valli/Chris Montez power falsetto might be a bit off-putting. The writing/production of those Four Seasons records is brilliant though.

  87. Well, Tony, ACDC is rock not pop, and are you referring to the Bon Scott years or the years in which they’ve been fronted by that caterwauling new guy?

  88. Bigsteve, I think it was tonyola who opened my eyes to the fact that I very well might be a falsettophobe. It had never occurred to me before, and now I question if one of the reasons I like Tom Waits is because it provides me with the equivalent of being able to say that I’m not racist because I have one black friend. I’m still soul searching in an attempt to work through this issue.

  89. Chris Montez? Power falsetto? Chris had a smooth, pleasant voice, but it was somewhat wispy, slightly effeminate, and not a great sense of pitch. As I said, pleasant, but power isn’t a word I’d use as description.

    To rid cdm of his falsetto-phobia, may I suggest the Clockwork Orange treatment with Klaus Nomi on endless loop? It’ll either cure cdm or make his head explode. Now that’s power falsetto!

  90. 2000 Man

    I see your point, mwall. But it’s not a copout. I think the Rock from other places brought the A game out of American Rockers. I think Rock’s dominance made that decade’s music “best.” It was like The Great American Songbook never existed, and I thought that was great!

  91. 2000 Man

    What’s that make the Grateul Dead?

  92. Two 2K’s point – and I feel similarly on this subject no matter how fair minded I try to be – the great thing about the development of rock ‘n roll is that it combined working (ie, live and in the studio) musicians often playing their own compositions AND using technology and tapping into “youth culture” in previously untapped ways. It’s a form that would be both primitive and folk AND modern and commercial.

  93. I want to make it clear that not all falsetto is good. An example of bad falsetto is Prince on “Kiss”, which would be a pretty good song except for that campy and hokey high squeal of a voice. Smokey Robinson and Curtis Mayfield could get away with soul falsetto, but Prince can’t. Much as I dislike Tom Jones, he did a better job with the Art of Noise on “Kiss” than Prince.

  94. BigSteve

    Damn it’s Lou Christie Lightning Striking Again and again and again that I was thinking of. That’s more like the Frankie Valli falsetto. Getting pince nez’d over Chris Montez is shameful.

  95. Another example of power falsetto – the Newbeats.

  96. Peyote cactus.

  97. jeangray

    oKay — da 70’s it is:

    Stevie Wonder
    Willie Nelson
    Frank Zappa
    Patti Smith
    Philip Glass
    Lou Reed
    Harold Budd
    Todd Rundgren
    Stanley Clarke

    Granted many of these artists were active in the 60’s, but the Me Decade is where they really flourished.

  98. BigSteve

    Wow I’d forgotten all about The Newbeats. They also did Run Baby Run. Great records. Doing a little research, I discovered this bit of trivia — Larry Henley, the guy that sang the falsetto parts, would go on to co-write Wind Beneath My Wings. Does that cancel out the cool points for the early singles?

  99. Yeah. I’m a big fan of the decace that went from 1957-1959, then jumped to 1964-1969, and ended 1977-1980.

    Also, aren’t the Four Seasons really just Frankie and 3 completely anonymous guys. That group has more least valuable players than the Beach Boys.

  100. Not at all, chick! Bob Gaudio, the band’s keyboardist, a primary songwriter, and producer was Valli’s partner in crime from the start. He’s like the Pete Townshend of the Four Seasons, or the Richard Carpenter. His musical career predates the Four Seasons. At 15 he wrote a hit song for his teenage band, the Royal Teens: the legendary “Short Shorts.” (OK, it’s a grating song, but there was a good tv ad that used it when we were young, featuring lots of women walking around in short shorts.) By the late-’60s, I believe, he and Valli formed some official partnership giving them joint control of the band, splitting all songwriting, sharing wives and children, etc. Gaudio has also produced a lot of artists we have little to no interest in, including Neil Diamond (including “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” his smash duet with Babs). Anyhow, this is a case of me knowing way too much – and for that I am deeply sorry. But that’s not all!

    Guitarist Tommy DeVito was also an integral part of the band until his gambling problems forced him from the band. He’s the central character of that Broadway smash, Jersey Boys. You know, the Troubled One. At one point, before I was old enough to know and get a meeting with the man, he was married to one of my grandmother’s cousins.

  101. Oof! that Newbeats is horrible.

    But thanks for reminding me about Curtis Mayfield and Smokey. I love both of their falsettos. And I like Prince’s falsetto as well. Maybe I’m not a falsettophobe after all. Maybe I just don’t like screeching in pop music.

  102. I thought that Al Kooper’s first claim to fame was writing Short Shorts.

  103. misterioso

    Both Brian Wilson and Marino were unmistakeably great and were let down by their teammates.

  104. misterioso

    “He’s like the Pete Townsend of the Four Seasons, or the Richard Carpenter”! Ay, very like a whale. Brilliant stuff, Mod! Way to subtly give Gaudio a dose of rock cred way above and beyond his merits (he’s like Townsend, man!) and then snatch it away (he’s like Richard Carpenter, he wrote a crappy novelty song, and he produced schlock for Neil Diamond and Streisand!). Looking forward to similar analogies in future threads. Say, if the merits of Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs are being questioned, you can explain that “Sam was like the Robbie Robertson in the band, or the John Denver.”

  105. Thank you for picking up on one of my life’s callings.

  106. 2000 Man

    I know people that still think Rock N Roll is evil, and when I took a History of Rock class in 1976 or 1977 it was a very small class because a lot of kids weren’t allowed to take it. The Beatles are a bad example. Everyone, including their grandmas liked them. They worked pretty hard to portray a safe image.

  107. misterioso

    From what I can see he was in the band but after their 15 seconds of fame.

  108. BigSteve

    When will the decades poll close? I’m still making up my mind, leaning towards the 20s or the 50s.

  109. This is an incredibly important decision. I’ll leave the poll running through the weekend, at least.

  110. I thought Kooper’s first claim to fame, or infamy (if you ask me), was writing “This Golden Ring.”

  111. I’m not sure if I can even dignify this with a Pince Nez

  112. Mod, I don’t see anything in your description that categorically makes the rock and roll era different than the first of the youth culture goes wild eras–the 20s jazz age (which was more people in their twenties than teens, sure) and the 30s swing era. I suppose by “technology” you mean electric instruments–but of course all sorts of live and studio technology was used to get the music of those earlier generations out and about, even if they hadn’t yet plugged in all their instruments quite as much.

  113. Mod, I don’t doubt that a case can be made for the greatness of The Beach Boys, although I’ve never managed to love their music (though I like it just fine). The Marino comparison is funny because it suggests a status somewhat “on the cusp” of greatness.

  114. Re the polls closing issue though, I have to suggest that the ballot has been improperly stuffed, at least as we know at this time, because some people voted before understanding what the question really was.

  115. Young people in the rock age were younger, in a sense, than young people in the jazz age. As for technological developments, multitracking, stereo, and the entire notion of making records as little works of art exploded in the rock age. There were records way back when and people sitting around their tube radios, but until the rock age did people drive around with music cranked up? Did people sit in their dens with headphones on? Did many people relate to music in way that would lead to folks in our generation eventually needing to create a forum like Rock Town Hall? If we were doing what we do now back in the 1920s we’d be considered part of some elite group of thinkers, like the members of the Algonguin Round Table. Instead we’re likely thought of as yet another group of middle-aged dorks. That’s progress, baby!

  116. We can’t legislate against ignorance.

  117. Yes, I was trying to be fair to your point of view – and my own. I would never make the “Pizza Argument” regarding the Beach Boys as I do the Beatles or Stones, that is, “What kind of person doesn’t like pizza?!?!”

  118. misterioso

    “If we were doing what we do now back in the 1920s we’d be considered part of some elite group of thinkers…” Nice to think so, isn’t it?

  119. True, but I think we can state clearly that the vote will prove “What’s the best decade of American music according to rock and roll fans on a specific list serve who didn’t always understand, or want to understand, what they were being asked or why non-rock musics were even being discussed.”

    It’ll be a mandate for sure.

  120. Mod, in answer to your questions:

    1) No, they mainly played it loud at home and went out to hear their local musicians play.

    2) No, they sat around the living room in groups and listened to it, although many individuals also listened to it alone, hearing the scratch of the needle or the low buzz of the radio.

    3) Yes.

  121. One of Gaudio’s other claims to fame or infamy depending on which Sinatra fan you ask is producing and co-writing (with Jake Holmes) Sinatra’s Watertown album. Gaudio and Holmes also co-wrote the Four Seasons’ “Genuine Imitation Life Gazette”.

    And on the long odds off-chance that someone wants to know more:

  122. mockcarr

    Nah, it’ll just be like a ballot in Florida.

  123. Actually, I really like the idea of Jefferson Airplane as a weed in the well-sculpted, careful garden of rock and roll. In a way that was in fact their role.

  124. tonyola

    I’ll bet that the parents’ reluctance to approve a History of Rock class has less to do with “Rock is evil” rather than “You’re not going to waste your time on a useless course like that”. I doubt that a History of Country Music would have gone over much better in 1977.

  125. Between Robert Johnson and Hoagy Carmichael, I’ll throw my lot on the 30s. Somebody should


  126. I sit corrected on my 3 Seasons put-down. Good background info.

    This post has ignited a lot of good debate, but I’m chafing at the USA restriction. Name the greatest American hockey players. Remember NO CANADIANS! That cuts out a lot of the good ones.

    I’m way too much an anglophile to have a strong opinion when we exclude the Brits. Apologies to those who still believe in American exceptionalism.

  127. The ’60’s for this rock fan. That should certainly win amongst the types here.

    Before reading the comments, I could make a case for the 50’s with Elvis, Chuck, the prime Chicago Blues and Sinatra’s best period (one of my projects last year was to digitize a copy of The Great Years a beautiful 3 disc set of Frank’s Capitol recordings for my father. I see that Bostonhistorian and Al have most of it covered.

    As someone who lived through the 70’s and 80’s I couldn’t go with either of them. And I can put the best jangle/college/post punk against any rock ever done. A lot of it was British and I just don’t think much of any other styles at the time.

  128. Chickenfrank, bringing the political critique of the poll question.

  129. I agree, LD or RaoulG, that somebody should.

    We now have Robert Johnson and Chuck Mangione running even as examples of the best American music. Neither one, however, seems likely to catch Aerosmith.

  130. ladymisskirroyale

    Here’s a nice overview for your consideration:

  131. jeangray

    Hey! On my list, half of the recording artists are not even Rock or PoP.

  132. I’ve got to say, I’m surprised at how well the ’70s is doing, even given our demographic. There was a lot of great music on either end of that decade, but in so few genres. Surprising, that’s all.

  133. BigSteve

    I decided to vote for the 20s. There was still vernacular American classical music then (Ives, Copland, Gershwin). It’s the golden age of Tin Pan Alley, and Irving Berlin was cranking ’em out. Armstrong’s Hot 5’s and 7’s were recorded in the 20s, and jazz is taking hold. There’s all the great early blues beginning to be recorded, and it’s Bessie Smith’s best period. Hillbilly music starts being recorded. The famous Bristol VA recording sessions that introduced Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family took place in 1927. Also various immigrant communities were in various stages of assimilation, so indigenous musics from all over were being recorded as they were becoming Americanized.

    The 20s were like the 50s in that there was post-war economic expansion, which meant money for cultural activity from very pop to very elite. And this was before the corporatization of our culture, so there was lots of room for ‘indie’ entrepreneurs. I think this is where the 60s and 70s fall down, because the big money is moving in and so great music is being made but there’s less variety.

  134. bostonhistorian

    I like this line of argument. I’d vote for the 20s as my second choice.

  135. Although the 20s, in this race, has not run true to its pre-race odds, this argument is an excellent example of why it was one of the favorites.

  136. American music? The 50s. No question for me. That said, I’m betting the 60s come out on top in this thing.

  137. I’d say the 20s was probably the most “important” decade, but I’m going with the one I listen to the most out of pure enjoyment.

  138. ladymisskirroyale

    Actually, a lot of “classical” music was the popular music of the time. It was written for the mainstream, not the elite, and was played in churches for the masses that attended mass.

  139. ladymisskirroyale

    The rock from the 60’s and 70’s led to punk (another form of rock) and then my favorite, post-punk. I need to work up a thread on How to Appreciate Post Punk Music to help everyone see that the dominance of rock in the 60’s and 70’s didn’t drive other music into decline. And then the rock of the 60’s and 70’s opened the door for The Average Joe to listen to folk, bluegrass, blues, and music from other cultures (Indian, German, etc).

  140. I look forward to that thread, ladymiss.

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