Many believe popular music has hit its nadir. Since the advent of downloads, music quality has significantly degraded. Country music and rock n roll have been particularly hard hit. However, this is not the first time popular music quality cratered. The early fifties pop music appealed more to senior citizens than young people. Scandal and unforeseen events nearly eradicated rock in 1958 and 1959. The worst moment of all came in 1974. The next generation of rock acts had not yet come forward while the previous generation seemed to have run out of ideas. As a result, disco and bubble gum pop came to the forefront. Although the first decade and a half of the twenty-first century has been a vast musical wasteland, 1974 was actually worse.
In 2006, CNN ran a survey of worst songs of all time. Readers voted five songs from 1974 onto the list. In fact, two of the top five songs came from that year. Hit songs included “Seasons in the Sun” by Terry Jacks, “The Night Chicago Died” by Paper Lace, “Midnight at the Oasis” by Maria Muldaur, “Billy Don’t Be A Hero” by Bo Donaldson, “Sunshine on my Shoulders” by Bob Denver, “Please Come To Boston” by Dave Loggins, and “(You’re) Having A Baby” by Paul Anka.
Pop fluff was not the greatest threat to popular culture in 1974. Instead, it came from perhaps the biggest worldwide hit of the year. Carl Douglas released “Kung Fu Fighting” ushering in the Disco Era. Disco music was a producer driven form of expression as opposed to musician oriented art. Essentially, disco was plastic music. Douglas unleashed the disco atrocity onto the world. Eventually, even Paul McCartney and The Rolling Stones embraced disco. It seemed as though the previous generation had either expended their energies or became bloated. Led Zeppelin started their own label and held an extravagant party to celebrate. Sly Stone got married at a Madison Square Garden concert. David Bowie “killed” Ziggy Stardust. Mick Taylor left The Rolling Stones. Jim Morrison’s widow, Pamela, overdosed on heroin.
Despite the public’s poor taste, hope echoed. KISS released their first album in 1974, but did not break for a few years. Bruce Springsteen would release Born to Run in 1975. AC/DC, The Ramones, and Van Halen played their first gigs. Neil Peart joined Rush. Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks added their talents to Fleetwood Mac. Patti Smith released her first single.
1974 brought bloated rock stars, pop fluff, and a bubbling undercurrent prepared to seize the music industry. However, like any era, the year was not a total waste. Joni Mitchell released Court and Spark. David Bowie produced Diamond Dogs. Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road provided a soundtrack for many people in 1973-74. Stevie Wonder was at his creative zenith.
Although the early 21st century has produced some of the worst music ever, it pales in comparison to 1974. Pop fluff, bubble gum, and third rate acts dominated the charts. Perhaps people were just exhausted from Vietnam, Watergate, and society in general. Despite the flawed music scene, some hope remained in talents like Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, and Joni Mitchell. Perhaps that is the big difference with 2014. There does not seem to be any rising talent to save today’s popular music.