Wednesday, April 2, 2014

What happened to top 40 music?

I became acquainted with top 40 music in the 1960s. My brother, Les,  was very current with all the new artists. I heard tunes like "Baby Talk" by Jan and Dean, "I Can't Help Falling in Love with You" by Elvis Presley, "He’s a Rebel" by the Crystals, "Another Saturday Night" by Sam Cooke, "Be True to your School" by the Beach Boys, "18 Yellow Roses" by Bobby Darin, and other tunes by artists such as the (Young) Rascals, the Ronettes, Leslie Gore, Bobby Vee, Jay and the Americans, Roy Orbison, the Rondelles, and many others. I heard, also, a LOT of "Do-wop," by what had come to be known as Rhythm and Blues and street corner artists.

My own interest in top 40 music covered about a 12 year span from roughly 1966 through 1978. My 45 RPM record collection included titles such as "Along came Mary," "Never my Love," "Cherish," and "Windy," by the Association, "California Dreamin'" by the Mamas and the Papas, "I am a Rock" by Simon and Garfunkel, "No Matter what Shape your Stomach is in" by the T-bones, "Sloop John B" by the Beach boys, "A Little bit of Me," "Last Train to Clarskville," "I'm a Believer," "Not your Stepping Stone," and others by the Monkees, "Let's Live for Today" by the Grass Roots, "On the Eve of Destruction," by Barry McGuire, "The Happening" by the Supremes, "I just Dropped In" by the First Edition, "Stoned Soul Picnic," and "Up, Up and Away," by the Fifth Dimension, "Young Girl," and "This Girl's a Woman Now," by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, "Dizzy" by Tommy Roe, "The Letter" by the Box Tops, "I think we're alone Now" and "Crimson and Clover" by Tommy James and the Shondells, "Rain in the Park and Other Things" by the Cowsills, "Incense and Peppermints" by the Strawberry Alarm Clock. And many other hits from that era. Not to mention all of the albums I bought with my papar route money by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Blood, Sweat and Tears, Chicago, and the Monkees. Even after moving to Los Angeles in 1975, I listened to KRTH which was the local top 40 channel. I kind of tuned out about mid-1976.

After that, I became a serious student of classical music and kind of lost touch with popular music. I learned about Bach and Brahms, Bruckner and Beethoven, Wagner, Debussy and Stravinsky. It was during this period that I was also introduced to jazz. My favorite artists were David Brubeck, Stan Kenton, Don Ellis, and Jaco Pastorius. During that period I purchased albums by those artists but remained completely out of touch with what was called top 40 music at the time.

Recently, I became aware of a group of GREAT studio musicians that flourished from roughly 1959 through 1981. This was a group of musicians who played on virtually every top 40 song during this time. A rough roster is below:

Guitar: Glen Campbell (yes, THAT Glen Campbell), Barney KesselTommy TedescoAl CaseyCarol KayeBilly StrangeRene Hall, Don Peake, Howard RobertsJames BurtonJerry Cole, Bill Aken, Mike Deasy, Doug Bartenfeld, Ray Pohlman, Bill Pitman, Irv Rubins, Louie Shelton, John Goldthwaite, Al Vescovo.
Saxophone: Steve DouglasJay MiglioriJim HornPlas JohnsonNino Tempo, Gene Cipriano
Trumpet: Roy CatonTony TerranOllie Mitchell, Bud Brisbois, Chuck Findley.
Trombone: Lou BlackburnRichard "Slyde" Hyde, Lew McCreary
Percussion: Julius Wechter, Gary L. Coleman, Frank Capp

It was after doing some internet research about these great artists that I renewed my interest in top 40 music. I went online to look for local top 40 radio stations. There were none listed in the AM band, and there were only three listed on the FM side, one comes from, oddly, Ohlone College, which is very weak in the South Bay. I programmed them into the sound system in my van and since that time I have been listening to a lot of top 40 music. Thus my initial question, what happened to top 40 music? Most of the songs that I have been hearing are by rap artists who seem to be remaking the same song over and over, or young artists whose music seems to sound all the same. I don't hear any of the excellence, craftsmanship, or artistry created by producers such as Phil Spector. Nor do I hear quality compositions by quality composers such as Jimmy Webb and Billy Strange, or the symphonic epics, such as "MacArthur Park," "Layla," or Mason Williams' "Classical Gas."

So for now, I'll continue to listen to my three stations, and welcome the relief I feel from the commercials, plugs, and advertisements.


As always, your comments are welcome and encouraged.

3 comments:

  1. Hard to cover all the questions your in depth analysis covered but in short I'd say that you have hit upon a thought I've had of late: Will there ever be an oldies rap stations? It's as if no one knows how to sing anymore, create harmonies and compose meaningful lyrics and melodies. True Tony, the top 40 genre' is nearly non existent. Sad.
    Gary Hammond

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  2. "Young Girl" was my favorite tune when I was about 8 years old...totally takes me back. Have you seen "Standing in the Shadows of Motown"? If not, you should check it out...very cool...Jay

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  3. The old swing instrumental bands that toured were a great learning ground for song writers and arrangers. As they waned, a lot of those guys went into pop, TV and Film. That last generation, the Quincy Jones are retiring. I think you really see that change rippling through pop music: you can really see the quality drop in the song writing.

    Where do they get to practice their craft anymore? You tour now once you are popular, not to sell albums and make yourself popular anymore. The quick-word and quick-success of the internet means most pop groups rarely get time to woodshed anything of quality before burning out early.

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