Decker on Music: Blast from the past

Ethan Decker. Editor-in-Chief.

Throughout the past year and a half that I have written this column, I have written mostly about current music. I recommend songs or albums that I think people might like if they listen. But what about music from before this decade? There is at least a 99 percent chance that many people’s favorite artists today were influenced in some way by an artist from the past, and I believe that it is very important to go back to the roots of music every once in a while to remind us how timeless music truly is.

One of the most common musical inspirations that has influenced pop music for decades is Motown, a record label formed 55 years ago. Founded by Berry Gordy (whose son and great-nephew ironically formed the group LMFAO), Motown was on the forefront of popular music in the 1960’s despite having dominantly African American artists during a period of racial tension. The record label helped form the careers of Marvin Gaye (who has influenced the likes of Usher and R. Kelly), Stevie Wonder (an influence of John Legend and Tupac), and Michael Jackson (who has influenced the vast majority of popular music, including Justin Timberlake, Daft Punk, Green Day, Kanye West, Pharrell and Jay-Z).  These artists channeled soul and emotion into their music in a way that most artists at the time could not create, with powerful protest songs such as “What’s Going On” and monumental pop classics such as “Billie Jean.” It is fairly safe to say that music today would be drastically different if it weren’t for Motown.

Another hugely influential music movement was the rise of alternative music in the 1990’s. While many argue that modern alternative rock began in the early 80’s with R.E.M., The Smiths and The Clash, the genre truly skyrocketed when Nirvana rose to prominence with the timeless single “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” This song, at the time, was a very unfamiliar sound for most music listeners at the time, especially after a decade of bubblegum pop. Other largely influential alternative songs from the 1990’s were “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M., “Wonderwall” by Oasis and “Creep” by Radiohead. Since the early 90’s, alternative music has sporadically found a home towards the top of the charts, since many bands often fuse alternative with other genres such as reggae (No Doubt, Sublime), pop (Weezer, Coldplay) and electronic (Nine Inch Nails, LCD Soundsystem).

Thinking about all of these past influences can make us wonder who the next influential artists will be. Today’s artists could potentially be considered among the all time greats, and we don’t even realize it. That is the one of the greatest parts about music, though; the songs we listen to today are timeless, and we could be watching our favorite artists of today being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame decades into the future. However, it is always important to go back to the earlier days of music so that we can appreciate what we listen to today.

Smells like Teen Spirit
Billie Jean
Losing my religion
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